London, March 19 (IANS) Strengthening its preparations to counter the coronavirus pandemic, the UK on Thursday announced it was taking the help of its armed forces to augment public services.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said that an additional 10,000 military personnel will be placed at a higher readiness and reserves put on standby to support public services as part of a new “COVID Support Force”.
“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,” he said, as per a statement on the ministry’s website.
Under this, up to 10,000 personnel more will be placed at a higher readiness, so they are able to assist with supporting public services. This is on top of the 10,000 already held at higher readiness.
A total of 150 military personnel will be trained to drive oxygen tankers in order to support the National Health Service, if required, and they will begin training on Monday.
The Ministry also said that measures have been taken to enable the call out of reservists, should they be required to join the response effort.
Scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory are already supporting Public Health England’s effort to understand the virus and tackle the spread, the statement said.
“These measures are part of prudent contingency planning to respond in a timely way to any request from other governments departments or civil authorities for support during the COVID-19 pandemic,” it added.
So far, the military have assisted with repatriation flights from China and Japan, and have also been providing 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 COVID-19 outbreak.
The UK, which has reported over 100 deaths and over 2,600 cases as of late Wednesday, ordered closure of all schools from Friday.