Labour urges greater coronavirus protections and testing for the armed forces

Labour urges greater coronavirus protections and testing for the armed forces  

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey MP has written to the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace MP to call for new measures to protect armed forces personnel from coronavirus.

The armed forces are increasingly playing a major role in the UK’s response to coronavirus, including working closely with the NHS, being drafted in to support Local Resilience Forums and performing coronavirus testing. The Ministry of Defence has created a 23,000-strong COVID Support Force, which could be used for further frontline support in settings such as hospitals and prisons.

John Healey is urging Ministers to step up measures to protect personnel, including:

  • testing armed forces personnel and publishing the results as other countries are doing, with priority given to the COVID Support Force
  • postponing large-scale training exercises where these cannot be done safely, to prevent outbreaks that other country’s armed forces have experienced
  • ensuring support for deployed personnel including full PPE for frontline staff in the UK, withdrawal from non-essential overseas postings to places where it is easier to protect personnel and urgent provision of adequate medical supplies to deal with any coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Healey’s intervention comes amidst concern over the risk to armed forces personnel around the world. US and French navy ships have recently experienced coronavirus outbreaks, with the first US death on active duty reported on Monday. Meanwhile, one of the UK’s two flagship aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, is reportedly due to set sail on a training exercise later this month.

The United States is amongst the countries which publishes aggregate data on testing of military personnel, but the Ministry of Defence does not currently provide this information.

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary, said:

“Coronavirus is showing again how our armed forces help keep us safe. It is vital the Government does everything it can to keep them safe too.

“Ministers should step up measures to protect military personnel from coronavirus, including making testing available and publishing the results, postponing large-scale training events wherever needed and supporting personnel deployed overseas.”

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