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Coronavirus: 20,000 British Personnel At Higher Readiness

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An extra 10,000 British military personnel are being placed at higher readiness, as the UK continues to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

They will form a new 'COVID Support Force' that will respond to requests for assistance from public services and civilian authorities.

Some of them will be given training to drive oxygen tankers.

When added to the 10,000 British personnel already on standby to respond to emergencies such as terrorist attacks, it brings the total number of servicemen and women at higher readiness to around 20,000.

It is said it will allow the MOD to offer the government ‘choice’ as the coronavirus crisis unfolds, although it has been maintained that there are currently no plans for large-scale deployment.

One hundred and fifty military personnel are set to begin training to drive oxygen tankers on Monday - their skills could be used by the NHS if required.

The COVID Support Force will also include reservists, who have been put on standby.

The military has also confirmed the names of two operations during the COVID-19 response - Operation Broadshare, which includes planning for tasks abroad, and Operation Rescript, which is looking ahead to what will happen in the UK.

The Defence Secretary is said to have made clear that he wants defence to work out how it can assist the health service further.

Ideas around how the COVID Support Force could provide extra beds and support are being offered up for consideration.

Porton Down
Scientists at Porton Down are among those contributing to the coronavirus response (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Ben Wallace said: "The men and women of our Armed Forces stand ready to protect Britain and her citizens from all threats, including COVID-19.

"The unique flexibility and dedication of the services means that we are able to provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need.

"From me downwards the entirety of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic."

The Ministry of Defence has been assessing where military medics might be used in the NHS, with the UK withdrawing from Exercise Medical Endeavour in Gibraltar to ensure those personnel are available to respond.

Scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down are also supporting Public Health England in work to understand the virus and tackle the spread. 

Major General Charlie Stickland, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff Operations and Commitments, said: "The COVID Support Force, potentially drawing upon our highly skilled scientists at DSTL or oxygen tanker drivers, will form part of a whole force effort to support the country during its time of need.

"Our servicemen and women are committed to maintain our operational output and delivering any support the Government requires."

To read more about the UK’s response to coronavirus and Military Aid to Civil Authorities, click here.

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