Coronavirus: What Are The Risks Of Using Military To Support COVID-19 Response?

The virus is thought to have first emerged in China and has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide.

A top former British Army officer says the military "shouldn't be over-concerned" by the worsening threat of coronavirus, but admitted there are risks involved with potentially deploying troops. 

Lieutenant General James Bashall was speaking before confirmation from Downing Street that it is now "highly likely" that COVID-19 will spread in a "significant way".

The Prime Minister was updated by officials this afternoon.

On Wednesday, the UK announced its biggest day-on-day increase of COVID-19 cases and the Government has said the British Army is "ready to backfill" for the police if needed.

Lt Gen James Bashall previously led Operation Temperer when the military supported the police on counter-terrorism operations following the Manchester Arena terror attack in 2017.

In an exclusive interview with Forces News, Lt Gen Bashall warned there are wider consequences of military personnel catching the virus.

"The advantage for the military is most people are young, with an average age in the low 20s, so the likelihood is they are probably fit and healthy and will survive," he said.

"But if they are to take on tasks to support the police or the ambulance service or whoever, we shouldn't assume they are going to be immune from catching it.

"That has wider consequences, for example, the Army has troops now preparing to go to Mali, Afghanistan, Cyprus... there's exercises taking place around the world at the moment all of which give the military contingency capability.

"I'm sure [the Ministry of Defence] will be thinking 'how do you quarantine a barracks?', 'what if a battalion is laid low with this?'.

"The military could potentially catch this as much as anybody else and that will have a consequence on contingency capability."

British troops on Operation Temperer 240517 CREDIT MOD
Lt Gen Bashall led the Army's Operation Temperer (Picture: MOD).

On Thursday, England's chief medical officer said it is "highly likely" there is "community transmission" of coronavirus in the UK.

Ther are now 115 confirmed cases in the UK.

The Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, has told Forces News defence potentially "has a far greater role to play" in the response to COVID-19.

The virus is thought to have first emerged in China and has killed more than 3,000 people worldwide.

Downing Street said deploying military personnel would only be in a worst-case scenario and that patrols on UK streets are unlikely.

Lt Gen Bashall also suggested the military could be called in if the NHS starts to "have issues that they can't manage".

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told Forces News on Wednesday: "The MOD is prepared for this outbreak of COVID-19 and has well- rehearsed plans in place for dealing with health matters. 

"All bases have been reminded of the guidance issued by Public Health England and advice to our personnel and the precautions taken at our establishments are the same as those for the general population."

Cover Image: (Picture: MOD).