Coronavirus

COVID: Scottish Lib Dems Leader Calls For More Regular Testing Of Military

Willie Rennie called for "extra-special support" for the testing of the Armed Forces.

The leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has called for COVID testing to be stepped up for service personnel in Scotland when travelling between military sites and their local communities.

Willie Rennie said he wants to see more regular testing for key workers and that the nature of work on military bases helps to create a "very risky combination" for personnel travelling home in the evening and at weekends.

"I think we should be expanding the amount of testing we’ve seen recently at some military bases – particularly in Scotland," he said, adding personnel are "exposed to the virus just like everyone else".

"We’ve got a very risky combination here. We’ve got people who are essential to the security of the nation, we’ve got them working very close together, they’ve got no other choice.

"They need to have the confidence that they’re going [to be] well – and they don’t just now because they’re not getting the regular testing.

"And then they’re at home, living in their communities many of them," he added.

Mr Rennie believes there is a "need for a comprehensive testing system" accounting for personnel movement, replacing a "haphazard" system that refers troops to local authorities for tests.

Scotland is home to some key military sites, including the UK’s nuclear deterrent based at HMNB Clyde and the Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon squadrons at RAF Lossiemouth, but its largest battle over the past year has been with COVID-19.

Mr Rennie has called for greater collaboration between defence and local health authorities, to provide "extra-special support" for the forces.

Faslane naval base, also known as HM Naval Base Clyde
Scotland is home to the UK's nuclear deterrent at HMNB Clyde (Picture: PA).

He said this could be in the form of weekly, on-demand or asymptomatic testing schemes, rolled out in a bid to prevent a "severe" security risk for the nation.

He added Scotland's PCR tests, used to detect an antigen as soon as possible, are being used at half capacity in the country and could be used to support the Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, Mr Rennie said rapid turnaround lateral flow tests (LFTs), which the military helped roll out UK-wide, were readily available for greater use by personnel.

Tobias Ellwood MP, chair of the Defence Select Committee, said LFTs could provide an "intelligence picture" that could prevent units from being held back with cases.

He added a conversation around the risk to those "doing the duty" during the battle with COVID should be expanded to the police, teachers and health workers, as well as the forces.

Professor Martin Michaelis, Molecular Medicine at the University of Kent, said he is "surprised" at the lack of regular testing for workers on every frontline with unavoidable contact, adding asymptomatic key workers risk becoming "super spreaders" without knowing.

In response to the concerns raised by Mr Rennie and others, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: "In line with national guidelines, service personnel are tested for COVID-19 when required and will as far as possible comply with the requirement to provide a negative test result before returning to the UK.  

"We continue to keep our testing policy under review."