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Shadow Defence team pile pressure on Government over coronavirus protections for our armed forces  

The Shadow Defence team are piling on the pressure calling on the Government to ensure protections from coronavirus and testing for armed forces personnel.

The lobbying of Ministers continued today during departmental questions in the House of Commons and follows a letter from the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, John Healey MP to the Defence Secretary calling for new measures to protect armed forces personnel from coronavirus, and a string of parliamentary questions by Shadow Armed Forces Minister, Stephen Morgan MP.

The Portsmouth MP said:

“Our armed forces are increasingly playing a major role in the UK’s response to coronavirus.

Be it working closely with the NHS, being drafted in to support Local Resilience Forums and performing coronavirus testing, or the COVID Support Force on hand to take action, our armed forces are on the frontline supporting our communities in settings such as hospitals and prisons.

At the end of April only 1,222 personnel had been tested for coronavirus – less than 1% of the UK forces service personnel. That begs the question, why have Ministers been so slow to test our troops?

The armed forces are delivering for us. Government must deliver for them too with regular testing and proper protections”.

Shadow Minister Stephen Morgan MP has been probing the Government over its support to service personnel with a series of questions to the MoD over testing and social distancing to access to ventilators.

Labour is calling for 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.

The interventions come 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.

On this Stephen Morgan MP said:

“The United States is amongst the countries publishing aggregate data on testing of military personnel, but the Ministry of Defence does not currently provide this information. We must and should learn from our allies in protecting all personnel”.

Thanks to the pressure put on Government by the Shadow Defence team, the safety of crew onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth was prioritised when sailing was delayed allowing time for personnel to be tested before a training exercise.

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

“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.”