The UK Ministry of Defence is announcing that it will boost the size of its civil contingency unit (CCU) to create a 20,000-strong COVID-19 support force amid the spreading coronavirus pandemic, reported The Guardian.
According to an announcement by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the CCU, routinely held at higher readiness in case of a civil emergency, will be boosted by an additional 10,000 troops.
As the country’s police force and NHS services are already working at full capacity to deal with the fallout from the pandemic, reservists could also be called up, said Wallace on Wednesday.
The cancellation of training exercises overseas, including in Kenya and Canada, has freed up capacity, said the MoD, as rest and recuperation have been cancelled for the UK’s troops on overseas operations.
“The men and women of our armed forces stand ready to protect Britain and her citizens from all threats, including Covid-19. The unique flexibility and dedication of the services means that we are able to provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need", said Wallace.
Announcing the move, which comes as troops in other countries on lockdown have been instrumental in enforcing compliance with restrictions and preventing looting and other possible civil disruptions, Wallace added:
“From me downwards the entirety of the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic”.
The MoD emphasised that aid offered by augmented troops could be used to great advantage in areas such as health service and science.
Thus, some 150 military personnel of the COVID-19 support force will start training on Monday to assist the NHS in driving oxygen tankers.
On a scientific level, Public Health England’s research aimed at further studying the virus and tackling its spread will be aided by scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).
“Putting more personnel at a higher state of readiness and having our reserves on standby gives us greater flexibility to support public services as and when they require our assistance”, added Maj. Gen. Charlie Stickland, the assistant chief of the defence staff.
The Standing Joint Command HQ in Aldershot, Hampshire, will serve as the command and control structure for the COVID-19 support force.
Military Aid in Repatriation
Amidst the novel coronavirus epidemic, the UK military has been assisting with its citizens’ repatriation flights from countries such as China and Japan.
Hundreds of British citizens are currently being brought home from Cuba, which allowed the British-operated MS Braemar cruise ship to dock early on Wednesday after the vessel spent days in search of a Caribbean port that would grant it access.
Four passengers and one crew member on the MS Braemar have tested positive for the virus, while several passengers and crew members were isolated after displaying influenza-like symptoms. Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, said:
“[The] decision has been taken in response to [a] health emergency that might put the life of sick persons at risk”.
Local Response Level
Local responses to the coronavirus pandemic are also to be boosted by military specialists, The Guardian cited defence sources as saying.
Robert Jenrick, communities secretary, earlier requested an increase in military help with specific crisis planning expertise, as he highlighted the urgency of “supporting local authority elements of Covid-19 response plans, including social care”.
Some 70 ununiformed military personnel are to be dispatched to all 38 local resilience forums, to “test planning and identify weaknesses”.
Typically made up of councils, NHS bodies, emergency services, and the environment agency, the local resilience forums are to be augmented by military planners to help coordinate resources in a crisis.
UK in Grip of Epidemic
On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave his third daily press conference amidst the spreading coronavirus epidemic.
Amid observations that Londoners had not been sufficiently adhering to the government's advice to self-isolate, the prime minister pledged even tighter measures if the volatile situation called for it. Earlier, on Monday, Boris Johnson called for "social distancing" measures to take place, avoid unnecessary social contact, and for all those who could to work from home.
The current developments come as the total coronavirus cases in the UK have reached over 2,600 and the death toll has risen to over 72.