TWENTY thousand troops are ready to join the fight against coronavirus as “superspreader city” London faces a total lockdown as early as Friday.
The armed forces are poised to step in to take over hotels and run them as hospitals as the UK’s death rate spirals and Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to deploy sweeping shutdown measures.
The death toll from coronavirus has now reached 105 in the UK with confirmed cases up to 2,226.
Yesterday Boris Johnson announced schools will close from Friday with A-Level and GCSE exams cancelled.
London’s transport lockdown will start from today with 40 Tube stations closed until further notice and the rest of the capital’s transport network to be scaled back dramatically.
Further powers are also being looked at to keep people at home in the coming days and troops will be deployed in a bid to help the nation handle the escalating crisis.
It comes amid fears the capital, with its population of around nine million, has become a “city of superspreaders”, the Telegraph reports.
So far 953 people have been infected in London – more than 40 per cent of all confirmed cases in the country.
Mr Johnson warned that “everything is on the table” as urgent talks were held to decide if Britain will follow Italy, France and Spain in ordering people to stay indoors for up to 14 days.
He also called for “ruthless” enforcement of social distancing measures and added: “Let’s be in no doubt these are very important choices we are making in our daily lives.
“The more strictly, more ruthlessly, we can enforce upon ourselves and our families the advice we are getting, then the better we will be able to protect our NHS.”
It comes as the military is preparing to take over hotels next to hospitals or build tent cities if cases surge.
The COVID-19 Support Force is made up made up of 10,000 military personnel who are regularly deployed to civilian activities, plus an extra 10,000 in response.
Major General Charlie Stickland, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff Operations and Commitments, said the force “will form part of a whole force effort to support the country during its time of need”.
The force been placed at high readiness and could expand its role into more specialised roles aimed at helping the NHS.
The Surgeon General, the armed forces chief medical officer, is in talks with the NHS to see how uniformed medics can help.
A group of 150 military personnel are due to start training next week in how to drive oxygen tankers in order to support the treatment of coronavirus patients requiring ventilation and critical care.
Helicopters are also set to help transport supplies.
Scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory are supporting Public Health England’s effort to understand the virus and tackle the spread.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The men and women of our Armed Forces stand ready to protect Britain and her citizens from all threats, including COVID-19.
“The unique flexibility and dedication of the services means that we are able to provide assistance across the whole of society in this time of need.
“From me downwards the entirety of the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces are dedicated to getting the nation through this global pandemic.”
Soldiers and councils are also being prepared to work with people suffering distress during self-isolation, amid official concern over the toll it could take on the mental health those already facing challenging circumstances, the Telegraph reports.