UK

Coronavirus: Military Support Continues As Lockdown Is Eased Further

Boris Johnson has announced the next stage in easing England's lockdown, but thousands of personnel remain deployed on COVID-related tasks.

Thousands of military personnel remain deployed on COVID-related tasks as the easing of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown continues.

The Prime Minister has announced the next stage of easing the restrictions in England, as, he says, infections are falling and a risk of a second peak that overwhelms the National Health Service is currently low.

Some premises, including pubs, hotels and workplace cafeterias, are being allowed to reopen from 4 July, as long as they follow guidelines to ensure they are COVID-secure.

Guidance on social distancing has also been modified – the two-metre distancing protocol could be reduced to one metre if needed, if mitigations such as wearing face coverings are in place.

"While the experts cannot give a precise assessment of how much the risk is reduced, they judge these mitigations would make one-metre-plus broadly equivalent to the risk at two metres if those mitigations are fully implemented," Boris Johnson said.

"There is only one certainty – the fewer social contacts you have, the safer you will be.

"My duty, our duty as the Government, is to guide the British people, balancing our overriding aim of controlling the virus against our natural desire to bring back normal life."

RAF medics demonstrate new BAe 416 capability to carry covid19 coronavirus patients 160620 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
RAF medics demonstrate new BAe 416 capability to carry COVID-19 coronavirus patients.

Since the lockdown began in March, training for the Armed Forces has looked different – two-metre markers when exercising and extra spacing in classrooms and on passing out parades have been used, for example.

Maintaining social distancing in the military has required careful planning, but things could be about to change again.

The government says the changes come following evidence they are getting coronavirus under control - the number of infections are falling at a rate of 2% to 4% a day.

The COVID alert level has been downgraded from four to three, however the level of support required from the military seems to be steady.

Despite the Ministry of Defence (MOD) announcing last month that the number of personnel on standby under the COVID Support Force would be reduced, the current number available stands at more than 6,500 (6,673).

Latest figures show more than 4,000 (4,050) are currently deployed on COVID-related tasks, with 56 MACA (Military Aid to the Civil Authorities) requests still open.

An RAF Typhoon taking part in BALTOPs exercise earlier this month (Picture: RAF).

While some basic training and exercises were paused, deployments deemed essential have carried on.

One-hundred-and-fifty RAF personnel are taking part in Operation Azotize – a mission to carry out NATO Air Policing in Lithuania.

Although postponed, the MOD still plans to deploy 250 British troops to Mali on a UN peacekeeping mission at some point this year.

An MOD spokesperson said: "We are working closely with the UN to plan our increased contribution to peacekeeping operations in West Africa and remain committed to deploying within 2020."

The British Army returned to basic training at a reduced capacity in May following a pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Royal Air Force said essential training was unaffected by the pandemic, with the rest of its training activities now back to capacity.

The Royal Navy, meanwhile, said much of its training has continued through the lockdown period, including operational sea training and at HMS Raleigh where ratings get initial training.

While the UK’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions may be easing, the call for the military to deploy a mobile testing unit to a meat processing plant following a reported outbreak, is just one clear example that COVID-19 has not yet disappeared.

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