THE United States military has canceled war games involving thousands of troops with the Philippines scheduled for next month amid a novel coronavirus pandemic that has sickened more than 800 people.

“In light of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and in the best interest of the health and safety of both countries’ forces, it is prudent to cancel Balikatan 2020,” Admiral Phil Davidson, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, said in a statement on Thursday.

“We remain deeply committed to our longstanding alliance and friendship,” he added.

The so-called Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder) exercises were originally scheduled for May 4 to 15.

The US now has the largest number of confirmed infections in the world at more than 85,000, with at least 1,300 deaths. The Philippines has reported more than 700 cases with 45 deaths.

The US troops who take part in the war games usually come from its bases in Japan and South Korea, which have both been hit hard by the virus.

Japan now has almost 1,400 infections with 47 deaths, while more than 9,000 have been infected in South Korea, with 139 deaths. — Charmaine A. Tadalan