Military Could Have 'Far Greater Role' In Coronavirus Response

Newly-appointed defence minister James Heappey said defence has the potential to play a bigger part in COVID-19 response.

The military could have a "far greater role to play" in the response to the coronovirus crisis, the Minister for the Armed Forces has told Forces News.  

There have been 90 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK and more than 3,000 people have been killed by the virus since its outbreak in China.

Speaking on a visit to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, James Heappey MP said: "Defence has a far greater role to play, potentially.

"We have been very clear in our discussions with Number 10 and with other Government departments that defence is planning to assist in any way that they wish."

The Government has already announced the British Army is "ready to backfill" for the police if required.

Mr Heappey said he "did not think it was right" to discuss the details of the plans but said "the Prime Minister has been very clear that the Government is preparing for this fully". 

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Cyprus, but Mr Heappey said the Armed Forces will be "ready" to deal with COVID-19 "arrives inside the UK military", and planning is ongoing in each service.

"I'm afraid it's probably when, rather than if coronavirus comes, [and] we'll be ready to react internally," the former Army Major said.

Nearly 6,000 British personnel and their dependents are based in Cyprus (Picture: PA).

Mr Heappey spent three days in Cyprus, meeting the country's defence minister Savvas Angelides and the British personnel involved on Operation Shader - the UK's air campaign against so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

"Some of the stories I heard from 903 Expeditionary Air Wing were amazing," he said.

"They are flying day-in-day-out in quite challenging airspace and there's a small band of determined people who are doing great stuff."

Nearly 6,000 British personnel and their dependents are based in Cyprus - one of the Armed Forces' biggest overseas communities. 

Personnel and families on the island are advised to follow NHS advice and wash their hands regularly.

Anyone who believes they may have symptoms is encouraged to call their station medical centre.