TWENTY THOUSAND soldiers on standby from TODAY to help with coronavirus chaos as No10 denies they will be deployed to keep order if the pandemic brings panic to the streets of London
- Thousands of reservists put on a wartime-style footing to boost numbers
- Most important personnel kept in quarantine until they’re most needed
- Troops overseas will have holiday time cancelled to prepare for help at home
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Twenty thousand British soldiers have been placed in readiness today to help civilian authorities deal with the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation.
Members of the Army Reserve are among those being put on high readiness to help the police and other emergency services as the full brunt of the pandemic hits.
But Downing Street moved to dispel the idea that armed soldiers in the Covid Support Force would be used to keep order on the streets of cities like London.
No 10 said that although soldiers would be deployed on the street ‘as and if they are required’ there were no plans for them to replace police in dealing with unrest.
Instead it is thought they will help to guard sites to free up officers, as well as driving oxygen tankers and boosting hospital capacity with extra medics.
The most vital personnel are likely to be put in quarantine in UK bases until they are needed and all those overseas will have their holiday time cancelled.
No 10 said that although soldiers would be deployed on the street ‘as and if they are required’ there were no plans for them to replace police in dealing with unrest
Members of the Household Cavalry stand guard at a nearly-empty Horse Guards in London today
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace praised the service’s ‘unique flexibility’ as up to 20,000 troops prepare to be deployed in Britain’s streets, hospitals and other key sites. Mr Wallace is pictured arriving in Downing Street on Tuesday
But ministers were warned today that deploying military personnel to support public services is ‘risky’.
Elizabeth Braw, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said the tasks which troops would be expected to carry out were ‘not their speciality’ and ‘essentially a distraction’ from their normal duties.
‘With something like this, it is not exactly clear how the armed forces can support and more importantly we have to consider that they may be needed elsewhere,’ she said.
‘We can’t take for granted that we will only have a virus outbreak. What if there is another contingency, and I think that is the danger in relying on the armed forces.
‘To always assume that they will always be available to help with these kinds of duties that are not their speciality and are essentially a distraction from their speciality is risky.’
There are fears that as the virus outbreak escalates, vital emergency service workers will need military back-up to deliver basic needs.
A total of 150 personnel will begin urgent training from Monday so they are able to drive oxygen tankers to the NHS if a gap emerges.
Announcing the plans last night, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘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.’
Major General Charlie Stickland, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff, added: ‘Putting more personnel at a higher state of readiness and having our Reserves on standby gives us greater flexibility to support public services as and when they require our assistance.
‘The Covid Support Force, potentially drawing upon our highly skilled scientists or oxygen tanker drivers, will form part of a whole force effort to support the country.’
The Army will also backfill key areas, including replacing police officers, border guards, prison officers and medics under plans code-named Operation Broadshare.
The military is preparing for all scenarios, as it would do in any emergency. In a most-likely scenario, thousands of military medics, including doctors, nurses and combat medics, will be deployed to help hospitals.
But the military could also be used to help expand hospital bed capacity.
This could see troops using hotels, barracks, or erecting Army field hospitals near key locations to help cope with the rising numbers of infected people.
One option that has not been ruled out is using a navy hospital ship which supported operations to curb the Ebola outbreak.
At any one time there are some 10,000 troops on standby in the UK to help with a crisis. But the number of those at high readiness will be increased to between 15,000 and 20,000 so there are more personnel available to support public services.
Measures have been taken to enable the call out of reservists, should they be required to join the response effort to help deliver public services.
Defence scientists at Porton Down are also working to understand the virus and help tackle its spread.
The military is also helping with ongoing repatriation flights from countries overseas. On top of this, the Ministry of Defence is looking to supply the NHS with as many of its 35 ventilators as possible.
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