For more than 40 years, Argentina has supplied peacekeeping forces to different United Nations missions. These forces deploy as part of the Argentine Center for Joint Training for Peace Operations (CAECOPAZ) where over 200 personnel recently assumed duties in Cyprus. Operating during COVID-19 has presented new challenges: adopting new safety measures to limit infections plus new responsibilities to protect people at home before deploying overseas.

Serving the Argentine society before serving in Cyprus

During the pandemic, the demand for food assistance in Argentina rose from 8 to 11 million people. From March to July, CAECOPAZ responded by delivering meals to vulnerable neighborhoods.

Peacekeepers prepare and deliver food to vulnerable people in the Buenos Aires province during the pandemic. United Nations photo: CAECOPAZ

About 80% of CAECOPAZ's personnel, 330 in total, distributed 5,000 food rations daily in neighborhoods around the province of Buenos Aires where COVID-19 cases were the most concentrated.

"This was a very special mission. We are very pleased to have contributed to our country,” said the director of CAECOPAZ, Colonel Miguel Salguero. “Those of us who have had experience in peace missions, in humanitarian assistance, are prepared for this and we feel very confident in proceeding with empathy and understanding that the person who is in need is the one who matters the most. We must always be available to help."

Strict protocols during training

In July, the team started preparing for deployment to peacekeeping missions. Measures to protect deploying personnel started in pre-deployment training, where all staff quarantined for 15 days without any contact with outside people. Soldiers were then placed into pods of 4-5 people for training exercises, which moved online when practical, with exceptions for firefighting and first aid. In-person exercises mostly took place outdoors with social distancing and masks.

"When I arrived at the training center, I had to adapt to all the biosecurity measures, protocols and sanitary norms used by this center for the prevention and spread of the virus,” said Gonzalo Kloster, Second Marine Corps Corporal, one of the peacekeepers who deployed to Cyprus.

Within the base, barrels created a border separating personnel who would enter and leave the base from the trainee protective bubble.

An Argentine peacekeeper receives hand sanitizer at the sanitation zone checkpoint before entering the cafeteria within Training Center in Campo de Mayo, Buenos Aires. United Nations photo: CAECOPAZ

Another checkpoint was established outside the dining room, where personnel were screened to ensure they did not have a fever but did have a sense of smell. Tables that would normally invite group dining were restricted to individual use. A special biosecurity patrol monitored compliance.

In the evening, personnel slept no more than four to a room with beds arranged to provide further social distancing.

COVID-19 protocols continue in Cyprus

Upon arrival in Cyprus, the personnel quarantined again for 14 days before joining their contingent in the service of the UN.

Colonel Salguero, the Argentine Peacekeepers Training Center director, proceeds through the sanitizing tunnel at the center entrance in Campo de Mayo, Buenos Aires. A similar tunnel was set up to protect peacekeepers during deployment in Cyprus. United Nations photo: CAECOPAZ

To further protect base personnel, soldiers adapted measures normally used in chemical warfare situations like erecting a decontamination tunnel that uses quaternary ammonium, a strong antibacterial disinfectant, to sanitize personnel passing through it. These measures are credited with keeping the base COVID-19 free.

In addition to their regular mission in Cyprus, soldiers also try to protect civilians through COVID-19 awareness campaigns that incorporate recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Argentine Armed Forces.