UK Armed Forces personnel are continuing to play a key role in the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Twenty thousand military personnel have been on standby since March as part of the 'COVID Support Force' (CSF), with 3,934 personnel deployed to assist with 60 open military aid to the civil authorities (MACA) requests, according to the most recent statistics.
However, the number of personnel on standby as part of the CSF has been reduced to 7,500.
The figure will be kept under review as the COVID-19 response continues, with the 12,500 being released from the CSF will returning to their normal duties.
Four thousand British personnel have been deployed each day to assist with the coronavirus response.
Despite the CSF reduction, defence medics will continue to offer direct medical assistance, while other personnel will deliver PPE and maintain the national coronavirus testing capacity.
Forces allocated to defence outputs such as counter-terrorism operations and the Continuous At Sea Deterrent will remain available at extremely high readiness, if required.
The Aviation Task Force, a tri-service dedicated helicopter capability during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be "restructured", however.
Meanwhile, 2,000 reservists who volunteered for mobilisation during the coronavirus crisis, but are no longer required to fulfil military aid to the civil authorities (MACA) tasks, are also being made part of the demobilisation process.
Here is what the British military has been doing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Supporting the NHS
A major focus of the military's work has been on assisting the NHS.
Personnel helped to set up Nightingale hospitals around the country, which have been providing additional care capacity for coronavirus patients.
- These include hospitals at London's ExCel, Birmingham's NEC and a hospital at Manchester Central Convention Complex, formerly known as the GMEX, opened after being set up with the help of military personnel.
- The British Army also helped convert Glasgow's SEC Centre into a temporary NHS hospital and to build a field hospital at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
- Army veteran Captain Tom Moore, who raised more than £32 million for NHS Charities Together, officially opened NHS Yorkshire and The Humber via video link, while the Earl of Wessex opened NHS Nightingale Hospital Bristol.
- Work is underway to build NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter, with Royal Engineers praised for their involvement.
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- Mobile coronavirus testing units are operational across the UK, including sites in Gloucestershire and Cornwall. The vast majority of the facilities are being staffed by the military.
- The Defence Secretary praised military personnel for their "ingenuity and determination" after getting 92 mobile testing sites ready in the space of just a week.
- The Health Secretary thanked the "best of the best" in the British military as he confirmed the Government had met its target of 100,000 coronavirus tests per day.
Supporting ambulance services
- Nearly 200 Armed Forces personnel from the COVID Support Force were mobilised to support ambulance services across the country.
- Members of the British Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy are supporting NHS ambulance services.
- Elsewhere, more than 100 tri-service personnel have trained to drive oxygen tankers in support of the NHS, if required. They were trained to respond to emergencies and drive ambulances when required.
- Royal Marines have gone through specialist training to help the fight against COVID-19, getting them ready to deploy across the south-west of England to support frontline workers.
- Troops from 247 Gurkha Signal Squadron, part of 16th Signal Regiment spent 10 days training with pharmacists on how to conduct COVID-19 testing at Edgbaston Cricket Ground in Birmingham.
- Similar programmes have been taking place in Manchester and Glasgow, meaning the military is helping more frontline health workers get tested.
Delivery of PPE
- Regular and reservist personnel, from all three services, have been helping to distribute delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline NHS staff. The PPE includes items such as masks, safety glasses, gloves, aprons and protective suits.
- The British Army teamed up with eBay to help healthcare workers find and order free personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Royal Air Force aircraft picked up personal protective equipment (PPE) for the NHS from Turkey.
- During the Easter weekend, 250,000 items of PPE for medical staff were delivered to RAF Brize Norton ready to be distributed across the UK.
- Alongside distributing supplies to medical personnel during the pandemic, the military have been 3D printing PPE components. Engineers from the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and the Army began producing the components following an appeal from 3DCrowd UK, a volunteer organisation crowdsourcing 3D printer owners to help produce protective equipment.
- A team of Royal Logistic Corps personnel have been helping deliver PPE to NHS trusts across the UK.
Increasing medical capacity
- The Ministry of Defence (MOD) set aside "dozens" of specialist military planners to support public services, authorities and emergency services on a local level.
- Forty Scots Guards soldiers were deployed to help provide 200 extra beds for coronavirus patients on the Isle of Wight, at St Mary’s Hospital.
- Scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), Porton Down have been helping to deal with the spread of the coronavirus. "DSTL is providing hazard assessment, microbiological testing and operational analysis support to Government," the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said in a statement.
- A £1 million fund to "fast-track innovation" and help the Armed Forces in the fight against coronavirus was launched by the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA). It was set up to discover an "idea or novel approach" that could boost the Ministry of Defence's capabilities amid the coronavirus outbreak or other similar future threats, DASA said.
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Tackling fake news
- The Ministry of Defence sent a team to support the Cabinet Office in tackling online misinformation - part of the COVID Support Force effort in bolstering the UK's coronavirus defences. The group is helping to identify and tackle fake online news about the pandemic and is setting its sights on an increasing number of fraudulent phishing scams.
- In addition, two experts from the British Army joined a NATO team set up to combat disinformation during the pandemic.
Evacuation, transportation and repatriation
- The Aviation Task Force is providing a dedicated helicopter capability across the UK's response to COVID-19 - British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy aircraft operating 24 hours of the day.
- Royal Navy helicopters based at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall are to be used as air ambulances for the NHS. Three Merlin Mk2 helicopters and their crews from 820 Naval Air Squadron have been set aside for the task, providing assistance to the NHS and South Western Ambulance Service. The aircraft are also be used as transporters, moving both supplies and personnel.
- Meanwhile, Royal Air Force helicopters are also supporting the NHS. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) said they are there to help with "medical transports", as well as general support including the movement of personnel and equipment.
- Three RAF Puma helicopters deployed to Kinloss Barracks in Scotland to work alongside a Chinook and Wildcat helicopter, based at RAF Leeming, North Yorkshire, are to meet NHS requests in northern England and Scotland. Royal Air Force helicopters are supporting the Midlands and southern England, working out of RAF Benson, Oxfordshire. These southern areas are supported by Chinook and Wildcat helicopters.
- In March, the RAF evacuated one person suffering from coronavirus from the Shetland Islands to Aberdeen.
- Joint Helicopter Command, an aircraft force comprising all three services, is also on standby and will be used to reach "isolated communities that may not be able to obtain urgent medical care", the MOD said.
- The military has also conducted repatriation flights, including bringing back British holidaymakers who were stranded on a cruise ship in Cuba.
- During the Easter weekend, members of the Armed Forces conducted joint familiarisation training for potential medical evacuations with NHS emergency care workers to help with the fight against coronavirus. A Royal Air Force Puma and Chinook and a Royal Navy Merlin helicopter, which are all on standby as part of the Aviation Task Force, landed at Thruxton Airfield in Hampshire.
- The Government has announced £6 million of emergency funding to support military charities which are struggling to raise funds during the pandemic.
- Military families living in Service Family Accommodation (SFA) were asked to identify if anyone in their household is self-isolating with suspected coronavirus. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and Amey, who are responsible for the maintenance of SFA, have put a plan in place aimed at "minimising the spread of the virus", according to a Royal Air Force Families Federation (RAFFF) announcement.
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- The Royal Navy has turned to technology to help continue training its next generation of engineers. While the majority of training at HMS Sultan was paused during the coronavirus outbreak, some lessons have been carried out online.
- The Royal Navy has continued to carry out basic training at HMS Raleigh during the coronavirus pandemic by following a number of measures.
- A team of Gurkha soldiers is aiming to run the equivalent length of the UK to help raise funds for a hospital trust.
- The British Army has resumed basic training at a reduced capacity.
- The Royal Air Force is in "initial discussions" with the aviation industry to welcome civilian pilots, including aviators from British Airways, on secondment. According to a statement, the Air Force is currently in talks with the industry over the transferring of "suitable" personnel who otherwise could be facing redundancy.
- The Defence Secretary has confirmed British service personnel are using an insect repellent as protection against coronavirus.
- Social distancing practices have been adopted on the Defence Animal Training Regiment site in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.
- The Army was involved in the conversion of Glasgow's SEC Centre into a temporary NHS hospital.
- Liaison Officers at Joint Military Command in Stirling, Scotland, have been in close contact with the Scottish Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre. They have also been providing planning support in Scotland's regional and local resilience partnerships.
- Military personnel helped to build a field hospital at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. The Dragon Heart Hospital is providing up to 2,000 additional beds for COVID-19 patients. It was opened by the Prince of Wales.
- British Army personnel have been mobilised to support the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust’s (WAST) frontline response to the virus.
- Military operations teams in Brecon Barracks have been speaking with the Welsh Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre and is providing planning support to Wales’ four regional Local Resilience Forums.
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- It has been announced the country's “Nightingale” hospital for treating Covid-19 patients is being temporarily stood down. Stormont Health Minister, Robin Swann said the Belfast City Hospital tower block facility treated 30 people in intensive care beds at the height of the first wave of virus infection.
- A British Army base in County Down was chosen to be used as a temporary mortuary for victims of COVID-19. Northern Ireland's Department of Justice approached the Ministry of Defence (MOD) with a request to use a large building at the Kinnegar base in Holywood if required.
- Around 175 British personnel have assisted Gibraltar's government with the delivery of food and medicine to local residents. Medical supplies and military equipment have been arriving into RAF Gibraltar to boost the Rock's coronavirus response.
- Royal Gibraltar Regiment and MOD Gibraltar personnel have been working together to help others during the COVID-19 crisis.
- The RAF has delivered essential equipment to the Falkland Islands to help treat coronavirus patients, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) said.
- Six British Army medics recently deployed to the Falklands to provide support during the coronavirus outbreak.
- In March, children from the Falklands who attend school in the UK and were left unable to fly home were offered priority travel on the South Atlantic Airbridge. The Airbridge is owned and operated by the MOD, and provides a direct air service.
Cover image: Patient drops completed coronavirus self-test kit into the collection box at the mobile testing unit at Scarborough Park & Ride, assisted by soldier (Picture: MOD).