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COVID Support Force: the MOD’s contribution to the coronavirus response

The COVID Support Force is currently supporting the public services to respond to the outbreak with the following activity.

Strengthening public services

Personnel at readiness

On 18 March the Defence Secretary announced a COVID Support Force to assist public services with the response to the coronavirus outbreak. As of 23 March, there are 250 personnel deployed to assist civil authorities with the response. They are part of 20,000 armed forces personnel currently stood at readiness to take part.

Military planners

The armed forces have contributed dozens of specialist military planners to Local Resilience Forums who are providing support to public services, local authorities and emergency services in preparing their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Our liaison officers at Joint Military Command Scotland in Stirling are in close contact with the Scottish Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre and we are also providing planning support to Scotland’s regional and local resilience partnerships.

The military operations team in Brecon Barracks is in close contact with the Welsh Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre and is providing planning support to Wales’ four regional Local Resilience Forums.

Supporting the NHS

NHS Nightingale Hospital

The NHS will next week open a new hospital providing support for hundreds rising to several thousand more patients with coronavirus, NHS England announced today. The NHS Nightingale Hospital, London, is expected to admit its first patients early next week. The hospital, based at the ExCeL conference centre in East London, will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen. The capacity will then scale over the coming weeks, potentially up to several thousand beds.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said:

Our military planners and engineers are working hand-in-hand with the NHS to support their development of the NHS Nightingale Hospital. The Armed Forces have already been distributing personal protective equipment to meet the increased demand and we stand ready to assist further in any capacity needed.

The NHS and our Armed Forces are both world leaders in their fields, and this ambitious project is just one example of what can be achieved when they come together to help the nation.

Oxygen tanker drivers

A uniformed member of military personnel works on an oxygen tanker
Colour Sergeant Nick Barber is taking part in training to drive oxygen tankers in support of the NHS. MOD Crown Copyright.

Armed forces personnel have begun training to drive oxygen tankers in support of the NHS. Around 150 members of personnel from all three services will be trained to drive supplies of oxygen to NHS facilities if required.

Training began at Air Products facilities in Port Talbot and Carrington, near Manchester, on Monday 23 March. By the end of this week, the first cohort of military personnel will have completed their training to fill the oxygen tankers, drive them safely and deposit the oxygen at NHS facilities.

Delivering personal protective equipment (PPE)

Uniformed personnel unload boxes from a lorry
The Army delivered personal protective equipment to St Thomas’ Hospital in London on 24 March. MOD Crown Copyright.

Fifty members of armed forces personnel have begun assisting the NHS with the distribution and delivery of PPE. The number of personnel is likely to be increased to 250 when the programme is running at full capacity.

Protecting communities

Children from the Falkland Islands

Schoolchildren from the Falkland Islands who attend school in the UK have been unable to travel home due to flight cancellations necessitated by the coronavirus outbreak. These children will be given priority travel on the South Atlantic Airbridge, a frequent direct air service owned and operated by the Ministry of Defence. The next airbridge flight is due to leave the UK later on this week.

Assistance to Gibraltar

The Ministry of Defence is providing assistance to the Government of Gibraltar. Around 175 personnel are helping with logistics and planning and the delivery of food and medicine to residents. We are working closely with the Government of Gibraltar to understand their requirements and are carefully considering a request for additional support from the Royal Gibraltar Regiment.

Medical evacuations

On Sunday 22 March, an RAF A400M transport aircraft responded to a request to transfer a critically-ill COVID-positive patient from hospital in the Shetland Islands to an intensive care unit in Aberdeen. The male patient, in his 60s, was in a deteriorating condition and needed urgently to be evacuated. Before returning to its home base at RAF Brize Norton, the aircraft was cleaned.

Joint Helicopter Command

A Royal Air Force Chinook helicopter
Royal Air Force Chinooks will support the work of Joint Helicopter Command. MOD Crown Copyright.

As part of the military’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, forces from Joint Helicopter Command are on standby to provide aviation capability in support to civil authorities. This will enable access to isolated communities that may not be able to obtain urgent medical care during the coronavirus crisis.

The Support Helicopter Force, Army Air Corps and Commando Helicopter Force will provide helicopters and personnel from all three services to respond as required. Find out more about Joint Helicopter Command.

Repatriation flights

So far, the military have assisted with repatriation flights from China and Japan. This included providing medically-trained members of service personnel and a military runway for aircraft to land in the United Kingdom. The repatriation flights allowed British citizens to return home safely and receive the medical treatment they needed.

An operational liaison and reconnaissance team of two military personnel has been deployed to Peru for up to ten days to provide planning assistance for an operation to repatriate British nationals stranded there. The operation is led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

For more information please visit the Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do guidance page on

Source: GOV.UK – Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

Main Image: The Royal Air Force assisted in bringing home the passengers of a cruise ship which had encountered an outbreak of the coronavirus. MOD Crown Copyright.

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