COVID-19: How The Military's Fighting Coronavirus

From setting up Nightingale hospitals to delivering PPE, the Armed Forces have been playing a leading role in response to the pandemic.

UK Armed Forces personnel are continuing to have a key role in the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic as we head into cold and flu season.

Last week, 100 RAF personnel deployed to Birmingham to begin supporting the city council's 'Drop and Collect' testing initiative.

It has involved delivering coronavirus testing kits to people with or without symptoms who are living in high-risk areas.

The Health Secretary, meanwhile, has said the military would be involved in distributing a potential coronavirus vaccine

During the peak of the military's response, 20,000 troops were at readiness, with more than 4,000 of them deployed at any one time.

Here is what the British military has been doing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Nightingale Hospitals

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 provided additional care capacity for coronavirus patients.

WATCH: Armed Forces hand over mobile testing unit operations in England.

Mobile testing 

Supporting ambulance services

WATCH: Soldiers complete a charity Doko race in support of the NHS.

Battling coronavirus in the lab

  • 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. Staff at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), Porton Down, have been working to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
  • We were given special access inside the DSTL in Wiltshire to learn more about the work of scientists there during the coronavirus crisis.


  • Royal Marines underwent 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 also took place in Manchester and Glasgow.

Delivery of PPE

  • Regular and reservist personnel from all three services have helped to distribute and deliver 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 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.

Increasing medical capacity

  • Military medics could be brought in to assist the NHS if there is a second spike in coronavirus cases during the winter.
  • 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 specially adapted as medical evacuation planes for critically ill COVID-19 patients.
  • The Ministry of Defence (MOD) set aside "dozens" of specialist military planners to support public services, authorities and emergency services on a local level.
  • A group of MPs have 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 future threats, DASA said.

WATCH: Queen video calls personnel to hear about their work.

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.
  • In addition, two experts from the British Army joined a NATO team set up to combat disinformation.

Evacuation, transportation and repatriation

Civilian contractors are being trained to run coronavirus mobile testing sites.


WATCH: RAF aircraft reconfigured to help move coronavirus patients.


  • 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.


WATCH: Military medics could be brought in to help NHS in case of second spike.

Northern Ireland

  • A patient was flown by the RAF from Northern Ireland to England for treatment for COVID-19-related issues. An MOD spokesperson said the transfer marked the fourth time the RAF assisted Northern Ireland’s department of health by transferring a patient during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In mid-May, it was announced that Northern Ireland's Nightingale hospital for treating COVID-19 patients was to be 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 the virus infection.
  • A British Army base in County Down was chosen to be used as a temporary mortuary for victims of COVID-19


  • Around 175 British personnel have assisted Gibraltar's government with the delivery of food and medicine to local residents. Medical supplies and military equipment arrived into RAF Gibraltar to boost the Rock's coronavirus response.
  • Royal Gibraltar Regiment and MOD Gibraltar personnel worked together to help others during the COVID-19 crisis.
Military personnel on modified BAe 146 modified to carry COVID-19 coronavirus patients 160620 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Military personnel on a BAe 146 aircraft modified to carry COVID-19 patients.

Falkland Islands

  • The RAF delivered essential equipment to the Falkland Islands to help treat coronavirus patients.
  • Six British Army medics 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. 

Cover image: Soldiers of the London Regiment, the only reserve unit in the Household Division, were deployed to run mobile testing units across London, in support of the battle against COVID-19 (Picture: MOD).