Two soldiers working at the Mobile Testing Unit in Kendal COVID19 Coronavirus 250420 CREDIT MOD
UK

Coronavirus: MOD Told To 'Lead The Way' And Develop Personnel Testing Strategy

Ben Wallace said a plan is in place to protect "vital parts" of UK national security, involving testing and quarantine.

Two soldiers working at the Mobile Testing Unit in Kendal COVID19 Coronavirus 250420 CREDIT MOD

The Defence Secretary has rejected criticism of COVID-19 testing for UK personnel, amid concerns only 1% have been checked.

Ben Wallace said no mass programme for testing the British military is in existence.

He did, however, say "certain individuals" are treated as a priority and there is “all the availability” within the Armed Forces for tests.

Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey has called on Mr Wallace to “get a grip” and ensure the Ministry of Defence “leads the way” with a plan, a testing target and publication of results – which he said is something the United States already has in place.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Healey said: "The US Defense Department has increased its testing capacity to 30,000 military personnel a week.

"It set out a strategic testing plan and it has now tested everyone deemed a priority for national security - including strategic deterrence, nuclear deterrence, anti-terror forces and healthcare as well as their entire Covid support force.

"Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he's done the same here in the UK?"

Mr Wallace replied: "We have a grip because we do have a plan. We have certain individuals who we treat as a priority.

Soldier from Grenadier Guards provides mobile Coronavirus COVID 19 testing kit at facility in Dulwich 260420 CREDIT MOD
Military personnel have been operating mobile coronavirus testing units, like this one in Dulwich (Picture: MOD).

"At the same time we have all the availability we need for testing."

The Defence Secretary said the UK has “done it slightly differently” in comparison to America and added: "We have no problems whatsoever testing whoever we want, when we want it.

"The best example of that was before embarkation on the Queen Elizabeth carrier we tested all 799 of the crew and indeed we will test them again throughout the period of sailing and indeed when they return."

Mr Wallace said a strategy is indeed in place to protect “vital parts” of UK national security which involves testing and quarantine.

He added: "We don't have a mass programme. What we have is testing that is available, we don't have any problems acquiring it and as we either bring forces up to readiness or deployment, there is an opportunity if required if quarantine hasn't done the job to test them as well."

Mr Healey said no definition had been provided for “testing who we want when we want”.

"In the last published figures for testing means we had tested just 1% of our entire military personnel and this is about keeping our armed forces safe and safeguarding our national security,” he added.

NHS medical staff testing coronavirus PPE equipment with army 280420 CREDIT Army in Scotland.jpg
A member of NHS medical staff testing coronavirus PPE equipment with the army (Picture: Army in Scotland).

Mr Wallace said the vast majority of military personnel have been sent home to "self-isolate and follow what the rest of society is doing".

The Defence Secretary has also said he has spoken with the Prime Minister about offering more military support to help provide assistance to care homes.

He was responding to a question from Conservative MP Stephen McPartland, who told the Commons: “As the crisis develops in our care homes across the country, does [Mr Wallace] agree with me that our military are ready and able to help our local authorities if they need that support to actually get into those care homes and provide the logistical support to get PPE to the people who need it?”

The Defence Secretary replied, stating: “There are two parts to the issue of the care homes – one is infections in the care homes, and one is effective leakage of infections from out of care homes into the wider community.

“Only this morning I spoke to the Prime Minister about offering up more military support if needed to make sure both our local resilience fora and indeed care homes get the assistance they need, whether that is bringing testing to care homes or indeed helping them with the routine and structure of decontamination so that staff can come and go better from those care homes.

“We stand ready to do that as required by the Department of Health and any other stakeholder.”

Cover image: Two soldiers working at the Mobile Testing Unit in Kendal (Picture: MOD).