On 18th March the Defence Secretary announced new measures to enable armed forces personnel to support public services in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Here’s an update on the form this support has taken so far…

Strengthening public services

On 18 March the Defence Secretary announced a COVID Support Force to assist public services with the response to the coronavirus outbreak. As of 23rd March, there are 250 personnel deployed to assist civil authorities with the response. They are part of 20,000 armed forces personnel currently stood at readiness to take part.

The armed forces have contributed dozens of specialist military planners to Local Resilience Forums who are providing support to public services, local authorities and emergency services in preparing their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Supporting the NHS

On Monday 23rd March, armed forces personnel began training to drive oxygen tankers in support of the NHS. Around 150 members of personnel from all three services will be trained to drive supplies of oxygen to NHS facilities if required.

Fifty members of armed forces personnel have begun assisting the NHS with the distribution and delivery of personal protective equipment. The number of personnel is likely to be increased to 250 when the programme is running at full capacity.

A small team of military planners visited the ExCeL centre with staff from NHS England to determine if the armed forces could support the NHS response to the outbreak. No final decisions have been taken at this time, but their work continues.

Protecting communities

On Sunday 22nd March, an RAF A400M transport aircraft responded to a request to transfer a critically-ill COVID-positive patient from hospital in the Shetland Islands to an intensive care unit in Aberdeen. The male patient, in his 60s, was in a deteriorating condition and needed urgently to be evacuated. Before returning to its home base at RAF Brize Norton, the aircraft was cleaned.

As part of the military’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, forces from Joint Helicopter Command are on standby to provide aviation capability in support to civil authorities. This will enable access to isolated communities that may not be able to obtain urgent medical care during the coronavirus crisis. The Support Helicopter Force, Army Air Corps, and Commando Helicopter Force will provide helicopters and personnel from all three services to respond as required.

So far, the military have assisted with repatriation flights from China and Japan. This included providing medically-trained members of service personnel and a military runway for aircraft to land in the United Kingdom. The repatriation flights allowed British citizens to return home safely and receive the medical treatment they needed.

Image: MOD Crown Copyright 2020

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