Ministry of Defence chiefs beg Tories to ‘let Army go to war with coronavirus’

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Military chiefs have urged ministers to put them on a “war footing” so they can make Covid-19 their top priority.

The call comes as the recently-­approved Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine started arriving in hospitals for its rollout from tomorrow, with plans to jab two million people a week.

Forces top brass have told the ­Government they can help get Covid-19 under control but warned ministers they must stop dithering on decisions if the vaccination target is to be met.

The military has been used successfully in recent months, such as for mass testing in Liverpool.

But some commanders believe their involvement is sometimes used as a propaganda ploy so ministers look like they are on top of the crisis.

Doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine are unpacked at a hospital in West Sussex

Army chiefs have said they can­ ­supply 5,000 personnel at short notice for the vaccine rollout.

One senior commander said: “Defeating Covid, and by that I mean getting the vaccination rolled out across the UK, needs to be our main effort.

“We need to go on a war footing. The armed forces can provide medical support and logistics. Engineers can build vaccination centres quickly and equip them with the trained medical personnel to deliver the virus. But we need to start doing this now.”

Tomorrow will see the beginning of the biggest immunisation programme in the history of the NHS.

More than 280 vaccination sites are due to be added to the 700 already operating as 100 million doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine start ­being rolled out across the UK.

A Government spokesman said: “Over a million people have already been vaccinated across the UK.

“The NHS has a clear vaccine delivery plan and the vaccine is being rolled out as quickly as doses can be supplied and quality checked.

Margaret Keenan, 90, was the first person in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer/BioNtech covid-19 vaccine last month

“The UK was the first country in the world to procure and authorise the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and we’ll be the first country in the world to start using it.

“We already have 530,000 quality checked doses available to the UK from Monday, with more available this month and tens of millions by the end of Q1 this year.”

Almost a month has passed since Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person in the world to be ­vaccinated outside a clinical trial.

The NHS has vaccinated more than a million people since, mainly over-80s. One of those who received the jab on Wednesday – his 100th birthday – was Roy Layzell.

The World War Two veteran, who lives in the West View care home in Bere Alston, Devon, said he thought the vaccine was “a good thing”.

The new Oxford vaccine is easier to transport and store than the earlier Pfizer jab, which has to be kept at -70C.

But the defence source said there were doubts that No10 had grasped how complex vaccinating the majority of the UK’s population will be and said it would require a huge number of personnel working 24/7 for months on end.

Brits are desperate to be vaccinated so that they can see loved ones and get back to work

Army chiefs want to run the Covid-19 operation from their Strategic Command bunker at Northwood, Herts. Our defence source said: “Soldiers could deploy across the ­country within days.

“The RAF can transport vaccines to isolated villages and ­islands, our doctors can help with ­operations and medics can work in vaccination centres.

“We must get a head start in the next phase of the pandemic and not react to events, which is what we have been doing until now.

“The rollout of vaccinations is too slow. More people are catching the virus than being vaccinated.”

Teaching unions were left unimpressed when the Government recently announced plans for troops to help 3,500 secondary schools carry out virus tests on pupils via video link.

Our source added: “Using the armed forces on a piecemeal basis is simply propaganda. It’s about the Government saying we are doing everything ­possible when in reality, they are ­doing very little.”

Meanwhile, there was confusion over whether the target of two ­million jabs a week would be hit this month.

Pfizer and AstraZeneca ­rejected Government warnings about lengthy supply gaps, claiming there would be enough doses to hit the UK’s goal.

The UK has 530,000 doses of the Oxford University vaccine available for roll out from Monday

But England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty last week warned that issues over v­accine availability would “remain for several months”.

India, which is producing the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine under licence, has 50 million doses ready to go – 10 times what the UK has.

In May, Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged 30 million doses would be ready for delivery by the time the jab was approved.

UK shortfalls have been blamed on a lack of investment in vaccine production facilities since 2010.

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The first Oxford AstraZeneca jabs will go to hospitals before the bulk of ­supplies are sent to hundreds of GP-led services. Staff at the UK’s care homes, which lost 20,000 residents to Covid-19 in the spring, are keen to see the vaccine rolled out swiftly. Raina Summerson, boss of Dorset care firm Agincare, said: “Outbreaks are appearing more frequently again in care settings.”

The MoD last night said: “The NHS is well prepared to deliver the vaccine and keep pace with supplies.

“The armed forces have specialist planners, logisticians and medics ready to support responses to the outbreak however required.”





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