COVID: Former Vice Defence Chief To Lead Community Testing Operations

A former Vice Chief of the Defence Staff has been appointed as the new Head of Operations for the Community Testing Programme.

General Sir Gordon Messenger, a decorated former Royal Marine, will take on the lead role in the scheme - offering tier-three regions a six-week "surge" of COVID-19 testing.

Military personnel will be involved in the rollout, which Boris Johnson last week explained would help the areas worst-affected.

He told MPs it will help ease restrictions in the worst hit areas, and save some people from having to self-isolate.

Speaking during a briefing this evening, General Sir Gordon Messenger said the UK is trying to move away from the term "mass testing".

"I think this is about community testing," he said.

"It’s about tailoring to the needs, as I said, of the local area, and that might be geographically specific, or it might be ethnic community-specific."

Gen Messenger said that while a recent testing programme in Liverpool was delivered by a primarily military workforce, that same set-up will not be repeated in other tier-three areas.

Personnel in Liverpool last week began training civilians to carry out testing duties.

"I can say with confidence that cannot be replicated around the country, and therefore the military support, along with all other types of central support, has to be targeted where it’s needed most and where it can have the greatest effect.

"I have absolutely no doubt that the military will continue to play a really important part in the community testing programme but the baseline assumption in terms of workforce generation is that that will be delivered locally with considerable support from the centre.

"From what I’ve seen, of a number of local communities, there’s great ingenuity already underway in delivering that workforce.

"They’re accessing the volunteer force, they’re working very innovatively with the private sector, and yes, of course, they’ve got good liaison with local leadership in the military.

"So that is our starting assumption, as I say, I’ve no doubt that the military will play a prominent role, but the idea that it can be a wholesale offer to all local authorities is simply undeliverable given what the military are doing already."

Gen Messenger was Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, deputy to the head of the UK Armed Forces, from 2016 to 2019.

He joined in Royal Marines in 1983 and attended the Canadian Staff College in 1994.

Between 1999 and 2004 he had taken on various commanding roles in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Later missions included civilian evacuation in Lebanon and tsunami relief efforts.

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