One of the Asia-Pacific region's largest multinational military exercises, Cobra Gold, kicked off in Thailand on Tuesday, with this year's event taking place under the heavy cloud of a fast-spreading novel coronavirus.

The exercise, co-hosted by Thailand, the United States, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia, will be held through March 6, with around 9,600 personnel from 29 countries in all taking part. It is aimed at enhancing interoperability, strengthening relationships among participating nations, handling security threats and national disasters.

But this year's event, which is also being attended by China and India, takes place with the added pressure of keeping participants safe from infection by the new coronavirus.

In response to the deepening health crisis, South Korea has reduced the number of personnel joining the exercise due to an explosion of domestic cases of infection, while the number of observing countries might also slightly decrease, according to Thai Chief of Defense Forces of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, Gen. Pornpipat Benyasri.

Strategies have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus. All personnel were required to go through medical screening before leaving their respective countries, and they will be checked twice a day for the duration of the exercise.

At an opening ceremony at Camp Akatotsarot in the northern province of Phitsanulok, Michael Heath, charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, said that only through cooperation and collaboration can they meet the challenges of keeping people safe.

"Cobra Gold prepares the participant countries to work together multilaterally across the full spectrum of operation," Heath said.

Apart from the tabletop exercises, field training, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, cyber warfare training will also be highlighted this year. It will aim to address the ability to handle the ever-increasing threats from the cyber world.

For this year's exercise, the 39th of its kind, the United States is sending around 5,500 troops, 64 aircraft and two ships. The exercise will also see its very first appearance of the F-35 fighter jet.

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