With the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the UK surpassing China’s official tally, the armed forces are doing vital work to help the national effort.
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There have been 41,903 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UK, and 4,353 people have died.
The military has already put 20,000 troops on standby to help respond to the deadly virus, transporting equipment, managing logistics and helping in hospitals, but each service is also making extra contributions to help the national effort.
The Army has led the transformation of London’s ExCel centre into an enormous makeshift hospital.
The ExCel centre in East London, which usually hosts international conferences and exhibitions, was transformed into the UK’s biggest hospital by the British Army in just 10 days.
NHS Nightingale has 4,000 beds, dwarfing the second biggest hospital in Tooting, South London, which has 1,300 beds.
The new hospital will start to take its first patients in the coming days, supported by 16,000 staff.
The project was led by Colonel Ashleigh Boreham, a Gulf War hero who has served in the Army since 1992.
He said: “It’s the biggest job I’ve ever done. But you know what? I’ve spent 27 years on a journey to the moment. This enemy is different to what we’re used to dealing with. This is a threat you can’t see.
“Yes it’s a big job, without a doubt. But it’s achievable.
“I’ve got the experience. I’m the right person at the right time for this particular project.”
There are plans to replicate the build in other large venues across the UK, with the NHS confirming on Friday that there are plans for four few sites.
NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said that more NHS Nightingale hospitals would be built in Birmingham, Bristol, Harrogate and Manchester.
The new emergency centres, which the Army will help to plan and build, will offer up to 4,500 beds between them.
The Army are also planning to embed their medics in hospitals to support NHS workers.
Last month, 450 British Army medics were withdrawn from a military exercise in eastern Europe to prepare for deployment in the UK.
Ministry of Defence has recently drawn up plans for up to 11,200 trained members of the Defence Medical Service to help on the frontline.
Finally, the Army is helping to transport vital equipment to hospitals across the country.
Troops have been transporting masks and other protective equipment, and 150 troops are being trained to drive oxygen tankers.
The Royal Navy has also been supporting the UK’s effort to combat coronavirus, lending its helicopters to the NHS.
Three Navy choppers based on the south coast will help the South West Ambulance Services, supporting more than 4,500,000 people in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Bristol and Somerset.
The Merlin MK2 helicopters and their crews, which are usually used for hunting submarines, will be working 12-hour shifts carrying stretchers and coronavirus patients to nearby hospitals.
The helicopters’ Commanding Officer Chris Knowles said: “This is very different from our ordinary role, but jobs like this are in our DNA.
“We are helping out the nation and the National Health Service during these testing times – it’s a real moment for everyone to pull together.”
The Navy has also been assisting in helicopter practice exercises to the North East, where three Wildcat choppers will be tasked with delivering supplies, ferrying medics and carrying patients.
The helicopters manoeuvred through Newcastle city centre and past the famous Tyne Bridge to land at NHS Calliope, HQ for 100 Royal Navy Reservists.
The seaborne service, however, isn’t just helping the UK’s effort, with the Navy sending a battleship to assist in the British Overseas Territories.
On Thursday, the RFA Argus was dispatched to the Caribbean, where it will support the islands during the pandemic.
The 175-metre ship has previously operated off the coast of Yemen and Iraq, and featured in the Hollywood hit World War Z.
Merlin and Wildcat helicopters were also sent to support the ship.
Have something to look forward to and try not to get too downhearted. Think of the things you and your friends will be able to do once it’s all over!
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Finally, Navy submariners have given advice to Brits about how to cope in self-isolation.
While on patrol, submarine teams can spend months under the water and have little contact with the outside world.
Sub Lieutenant Andrew Rose said people should find a routine to get through self-isolation.
He said: “Get a routine and stick to it. There’s plenty we could do in the house such as cleaning, exercising, contacting family or friends, learn a new skill etc.
“Also remember that, just like being at sea, isolation won’t last forever. Have something to look forward to and try not to get too downhearted. Think of the things you and your friends will be able to do once it’s all over!”
ROYAL AIR FORCE
The RAF is doing its bit to help UK’s coronavirus response too, evacuating patients from remote areas of the country and setting up temporary mortuaries in aircraft hangers.
In late March, and RAF transport aircraft evacuated a man with COVID-19 from the Scottish Shetland Islands.
The Atlas plane, which can carry up to 116 troops, alongside helicopters and other vehicles weighing up to 37 tonnes, took the man in his 60s to an intensive care unit in Aberdeen.
Alongside this, the RAF has provided helicopters to help NHS hospitals across the country.
The service has dispatched three choppers to Moray, in Scotland, and two to Leeming, in North Yorkshire, where they will move equipment, medical personnel and patients.
The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said that the aircraft “are ready to support emergency services and local communities wherever needed across the highlands and islands of Scotland – the Armed Forces have always got your back.”
Prince William wants to help the new helicopter support teams and return to the frontline as an air ambulance pilot.
On a visit to an NHS call centre in March, he revealed that he missed working in the life-saving role.
A source told The Sun last week: “William has been seriously considering returning as an air ambulance pilot to help in the current pandemic.
“He knows the whole country is doing its bit and he wants to help. But it’s complicated as he was originally grounded from the job so that he could become a senior working royal.”
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Finally, RAF aircraft hangars could be used to store up to 6,000 coronavirus victims.
Footage shot inside a disused US airbase in Oxfordshire showed hangars filled with plastic sheeting and scaffolding, built to hold the bodies of those killed by COVID-19.
In a statement, Oxfordshire County Council said: “In common with all other areas of the country, there are longstanding contingency plans to provide extra mortuary space during emergency situations.
“Partners from organisations including the NHS, registration services, Coroner’s office and local authorities have been meeting regularly to consider requirements that may be placed upon Oxfordshire during the coronavirus outbreak.
“This has led to a temporary facility being prepared at the former RAF base at Heyford Park, which will be used if required.”
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