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The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has announced it has readied an extra 10,000 military personnel to bolster its Covid-19 support force.

The move brings the total number of personnel on high readiness to help the UK respond to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic to 20,000. Personnel are being retrained to drive oxygen tankers for the NHS, and scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) are being drafted in to support Public Health England (PHE).

So far British personnel have helped arrange repatriation flights, but in an emergency situation, they could be used to support the police and NHS.

One hundred and fifty personnel will be trained to drive oxygen tankers from next Monday to maintain NHS supplies, and the MOD is taking measures to draw reservists with key skills back into service.

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Defence Secretary 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 MOD said that ‘well-rehearsed’ mechanisms were in place for the Armed Forces to support civil authorities where necessary.

The Covid support force will be organised by the standing joint force command and will manage the MOD’s contribution to the government’s response.

Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff Operations and Commitments Major General Charlie Stickland said: “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 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 maintaining our operational output and delivering any support the government requires.”

Commenting on Dstl’s involvement a MOD spokesperson told Army Technology: “Dstl is providing hazard assessment, microbiological testing and operational analysis support to Government.”,

Dstl previously assisted in the recovery and response to the Novichok incident.

Today defence ministers will lay a Written Ministerial Statement in the House of Commons, allowing for reservists to be called up to assist in the response.

The MOD has already dispatched crisis planners to assist regional authorities in planning for the Covid-19 Pandemic.

 The British Army today also announced that it was suspending face-to-face recruiting and basic training operations for the foreseeable future in response to the pandemic. It said that recruitment would continue ‘virtually’ and that it was looking into ways to maintain assessments without bringing large groups of people together.