Coronavirus has been the “single greatest logistic challenge” the head of the Armed Forces said he has seen in 40 years of service.
General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said thousands of personnel had been deployed to help tackle the virus, with 20,000 available at “high readiness”.
Speaking during the daily Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, he said the Armed Forces were supporting the NHS, Government and local communities.
This work included a reserve Major designing an e-portal in partnership with the international e-commerce giant eBay to distribute protective equipment to health and social care workers, he said.
Sir Nick added: “We’ve also been giving support to the Department of Health and Social Care, and of course the NHS.
“First and foremost, this has been a logistic task and I would say that I think in all of my more than 40 years of service, this is the single greatest logistic challenge that I have come across.”
He said that in 25 days, the NHS had gone from 240 customers they deliver to normally, to nearly 50,000 customers, which involved creating 260,000 sq ft of distribution warehousing.
Sir Nick also said: “Our role has been entirely in support of the heroic healthcare workers on the frontline – that’s both the NHS and social care – with humility very much being our watchword in the way that we give that support.”
The Chief of the Defence Staff said that one Major had been mobilised from the reserve and was working with eBay on supplying personal protective equipment (PPE).
Sir Nick added: “He has really stepped up to the plate – his daytime job is as a logistics expert who runs Google’s transport network across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
“He has been part of the supply team that has been working on how we distribute PPE.
“He has designed an e-portal in partnership with eBay which will in due course manage individual customers and he designed a bulk supply chain for the distribution of PPE to all of the NHS regions and trusts.”
Sir Nick also said the military had helped set up the new Nightingale hospitals and was preparing mobile pop-up testing centres in a bid to roll-out more Covid-19 testing.
“We think the innovative idea of pop-ups, rather like mobile libraries, would be a very useful way of going,” he said.
“What we are trying to do at the moment is up-scale that idea so that we have enough capacity to get out into those areas which are harder to reach.
“It is an overall system that is being put together at the moment, it will be very sophisticated once it is completed and there are some really good people designing it and we are working with those people to make it as good as it possibly can be.”
He told the Number 10 press briefing that more Armed Forces personnel could be deployed in the fight against coronavirus if required.
He added: “Between three and four thousand of our people have been involved, with around 20,000 available the whole time at a high readiness.”
Sir Nick said that the Armed Forces had also been working with the Cabinet Office to tackle misinformation and disinformation.
He added: “We have been involved with the Cabinet Office rapid response unit, with our 77 Brigade helping to quash rumours from misinformation, but also to counter disinformation.”