British military personnel have been a key part of the UK's COVID-19 response both at home and overseas, with the Armed Forces now engaged in a major role over the winter months.
This month, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) confirmed the Armed Forces' response to COVID-19 had become the biggest ever homeland military operation in peacetime, with more than 5,000 personnel involved.
Together with the NHS, military personnel are rolling out a COVID-19 mass vaccination programme, with three vaccines now approved for use in the UK.
The Armed Forces have begun delivering the vaccine to people, with personnel also assisting with the logistics and setting up of mass vaccination sites.
This is what the British military has been doing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Royal Navy medics have been delivering hundreds of vaccine jabs to people at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol.
- In January, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Forces News that 111 personnel are already involved in the planning.
- In the same month, it was announced 21 Vaccination Quick Reaction Force teams are on standby to deploy across England at short notice. Each team is made up of six military healthcare experts, with plans to grow it to 250 or more teams across the country if needed.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the military would be using "battle preparation techniques" to keep up the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across the UK.
- On 12 January, Mr Wallace told MPs the MOD is working closely with public health colleagues and the vaccine delivery “has increased on a daily basis”.
- While on 18 January, British Army soldiers began establishing 80 new COVID-19 vaccine centres for NHS Scotland, where 98 soldiers, mainly from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, will support NHS Scotland over the next 28 days.
Mobile and community testing
- Soldiers from the British Army have been supporting targeted coronavirus testing in Greater Manchester. Up to 1,000 troops are being deployed to assist across all 10 local authority areas in the region to carry out asymptomatic testing of specific populations.
- Personnel were also deployed on testing duties in Kent as more than 20 new testing centres were set up for hauliers crossing the Channel to France.
- Armed Forces personnel have also been supporting COVID-19 testing schemes in locations including Liverpool, Kent Medway Towns and Merthyr Tydfil in Wales.
- About 110 personnel were also deployed to Birmingham in September, supporting the city council's 'Drop and Collect' testing iniativie. It saw personnel helping to deliver home coronavirus testing kits to people with or without symptoms living in high-risk areas.
- Troops have also been supporting testing in schools.
- Earlier in the pandemic, the military set up and operated testing mobile testing units across the country.
- Mr Wallace praised the Armed Forces in May for their "ingenuity and determination" after getting 92 mobile testing sites ready in the space of only a week.
Personnel helped to set up Nightingale hospitals around the country, which have provided 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 Sir Tom Moore, who raised more than £32m for NHS Charities Together, officially opened NHS Yorkshire and The Humber via video link, while the Earl of Wessex opened NHS Nightingale Hospital Bristol.
- Royal Engineers were praised for their work in helping to construct NHS Nightingale Hospital Exeter.
- Staff at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), Porton Down, have been working to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus and also support testing capabilities.
- When the coronavirus pandemic began, defence scientists were tasked with helping with the crisis, including finding out more about COVID-19 and ways to stop its spread.
- We were given special access inside the DSTL, in Wiltshire last year, to learn more about the work of scientists there during the coronavirus crisis.
WATCH: Logistics of COVID vaccination programme 'unparalleled in scale and complexity'.
- 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 also took place in Manchester and Glasgow.
- While in Liverpool, soldiers taught care home staff and other civilians to carry out COVID-19 testing.
Delivery of PPE and equipment
- Regular and reservist personnel from all three services helped to distribute and deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) to frontline NHS staff. The PPE included 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 PPE.
- Alongside distributing supplies to medical personnel during the pandemic, the military has 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.
- The RAF delivered essential equipment to the Falkland Islands to help treat coronavirus patients early on during the pandemic. It included supplies to build an oxygen generation plant.
Supporting ambulance services
- Nearly 400 Armed Forces personnel from the COVID Support Force were mobilised to support ambulance services across the country in April amid the first wave of the pandemic.
- More than 100 tri-service personnel were trained to drive oxygen tankers in support of the NHS, if required.
- In Scotland, the RAF helped carry out medical aero-evacuations from Shetland, Orkney and Arran in support of the Scottish Ambulance Service.
- In December, more than 90 soldiers were re-enlisted to support the Welsh Ambulance Service to battle the second wave of the virus.
Increasing medical capacity
- Two RAF aircraft, normally used to transport Government ministers and VIPs, were reconfigured in record time to help in the fight against coronavirus. The BAe 146s were adapted as medical evacuation planes for critically ill COVID-19 patients.
- A group of MPs voiced concern, however, over whether the Government has "made full use" of experts, including those in the Armed Forces.
- A £1m 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 MOD's capabilities amid the coronavirus outbreak or other similar threats, DASA said.
WATCH: Military personnel deployed to Derbyshire for community testing.
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 to bolster the UK's coronavirus defences.
- In addition, two experts from the British Army joined a NATO team set up to combat disinformation.
Evacuation, transportation and repatriation
- The Aviation Task Force provided a dedicated helicopter capability across the UK's response to COVID-19 – British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy aircraft operating 24 hours a day.
- Joint Helicopter Command, an aircraft force comprising all three services, was put on standby to be used to reach "isolated communities that may not be able to obtain urgent medical care", the MOD said.
- The military also conducted repatriation flights, including bringing back British holidaymakers who were stranded on a cruise ship in Cuba.
Cover image: Personnel assisting with coronavirus testing at Gresley Old Hall, Derbyshire (Picture: MOD).