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20,000 troops put on standby as London braces for coronavirus lockdown

File photo of troops on the streets of London

2 min read

Up to 20,000 troops have been placed on standby as Boris Johnson prepares to order a lockdown in London to help tackle the growing coronavirus crisis.

The troops move - announced by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace - will double the size of the Army's civil contingency unit, which is held at a higher readiness to deal with emergencies, while reservists could also be called up to help.

Mr Wallace said the ‘Covid Support Force’ stood ready to "provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need".

The 20,000 troops will be placed on standby to provide support to the NHS, with tank drivers ready to transport oxygen supplies to the health service as needed.

And The Telegraph reports that they could be asked to man roadblocks and help run hotels as hospitals if required.

The Defence Secretary added: "From me downwards the entirety of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic."

Boris Johnson confirmed earlier this month that the Army was "always ready to backfill" if police numbers are stretched by the virus.

Major General Charlie Stickland, assistant chief of the Defence Staff Operations and Commitments, 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 maintain our operational output and delivering any support the Government requires.”

The Ministry of Defence said a Written Ministerial Statement will be laid in Parliament on Thursday calling up reservists to join the effort, and The Telegraph reports that the MoD has cancelled all 'Rest and Recuperation' for overseas forces to cut the risk of them returning to duty with the virus.

The move came as Boris Johnson said he was prepared to take "further and faster measures" to tackle the disease - with a lockdown of London not ruled out.

More than 950 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in London – over a third of the UK total of confirmed cases, which currently stands at 2,626.

The Prime Minister said it would be "quite wrong" to not leave that option open. 

He added: "We do not rule out - because it would be quite wrong to do so - taking further and faster measures in due course."

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