Coronavirus

COVID: One Year Of Military Response

Fifty Military Aid to Civil Authorities requests remain open – since March 2020, the MOD has responded to 374 requests.

It is one year since the first Military Aid to Civil Authorities (MACA) request was made and defence assets were deployed to help with the nations efforts to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 50 MACA requests remain open, and since 18 March 2020, the MOD has responded to a total of 374 such requests.

Starting in March last year, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace made clear the Government's intent to use all military options possible in its response to outbreak of the virus.

Speaking in Parliament on 16 March he promised: "We will not leave any stone unturned about making sure we mitigate the impact on society using all defence assets."

Just two days after lockdown was announced the first MACA request was made, with local government asking for the assistance of Armed Forces personnel.

The COVID Support Force was formed, paving the way for Operation Rescript.

Twenty thousand personnel were put on standby and in April 3,000 reservists joined the force.

Within days, members of the military were learning to drive oxygen tankers and delivering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to hospitals.

Royal Air Force troops carrying out COVID-19 testing in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales, as part of Operation Rescript last year (Picture: MOD).

In a matter of months, they delivered more than 1.18bn items of PPE to NHS staff, as the country prepared itself for the greatest threat since the Second World War.

Military personnel also became crucial to the creation of the NHS Nightingale Hospitals, bringing in specialist logistical expertise to get them up and running across the UK.

From mid-April 2020, Armed Forces personnel set up and manned mobile units to test people who thought they had coronavirus symptoms.

By the end of May, more than 310,000 people had been tested at these sites.

Troops also helped drive ambulances, while the RAF transported suspected COVID patients by air.

As we entered summer the rules relaxed but the threat remained, and after the summer months it only continued to grow, and 54 MACA requests remained open.

By early November, England had moved into its second lockdown, following similar moves in Wales and Northern Ireland, while Scotland also introduced tougher restrictions for the areas worst affected by the virus.

As COVID rates increased, 2,000 military personnel were called in to Liverpool for a mass testing pilot, aiming to deliver 450,000 tests a week to people whether or not they had symptoms.

Following the success of the pilot, the military began training civilians and care workers to administer the tests themselves, and then at other sites across the UK.

Members of the Queen's Gurkha Engineer Regiment help build the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in London (Picture: MOD).
Members of the Queen's Gurkha Engineer Regiment as they help build a Nightingale Hospital last year (Picture: MOD).

As the military's testing role started to draw down, it was announced that in Loughborough, personnel had been assisting with planning and logistics to create the first mass vaccination centres.

The creation of the Vaccine Quick Reaction Force followed, 20 mobile teams of six military healthcare experts deployed to support the UK vaccination rollout, with an additional 21 teams available for short-notice deployment.

As the numbers of COVID cases worsened, the home nations imposed more restrictions and plans for family Christmases were cancelled for much of the country.

With military assistance, more asymptomatic community testing centres were set up at various sites, and in Kent, the Armed Forces were called in to support testing of lorry drivers who were stranded after France closed their borders to all without a negative test.

The start of 2021 saw all of the UK enter into another lockdown.

With the first vaccines approved and a rollout under way, the military had a new role delivering vaccines to British overseas territories.

Although the threat from COVID still remains, the Armed Forces are still responding, with more than 2,600 military personnel assisting with more than 50 MACA requests.

Fourteen thousand personnel remain on standby as part of the Winter Preparedness Package.