The Australian Defence Force will deploy personnel to help health authorities around the country as part of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It comes just two months after 3000 ADF reservists were called out to help with bushfire recovery efforts.
On Monday Defence minister Linda Reynolds said reconnaissance and planning support teams have been placed in the Victorian, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australian state coordination centres, with teams ready to assist the remaining jurisdictions.
“These ADF teams will provide logistics, transport, health and general planning assistance as the workload of civilian medical teams continues to increase as more Australians are diagnosed with, or affected by, COVID-19,” she said.
A “contact tracing support team” has been working with NSW Health since Sunday, Reynolds said, with contract tracing teams now being established in all states and territories.
There are currently more than 1350 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the country, with 533 in NSW, 296 in Victoria, 259 in Queensland, 120 in Western Australia, 100 in South Australia, 22 in Tasmania, 19 in the ACT, and five in the Northern Territory. Seven people have died in Australia so far, with six of them in NSW.
Defence has been helping the Department of Health with logistics and specialist staff, Reynolds said, and has been providing clinical and epidemiological support to the department’s National Incident Room since early February.
Defence has also been assisting the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with health, logistics and movements support, and has been contributing to the whole-of-government planning for the National Communicable Disease Incidence of National Significance Plan, led by Emergency Management Australia.
A taskforce has also been established to coordinate Defence’s contribution to whole-of-government efforts.
Led by Lieutenant General John Frewen, who is also principal deputy director-general of the Australian Signals Directorate, the taskforce has been established to “ensure that we are well prepared to continue business in light of COVID-19”.
The taskforce includes representatives from the APS and the ADF, according to Defence’s COVID-19 response webpage.
A small team of engineering maintenance specialists have also been deployed to Australia’s only manufacturer of surgical face masks until workers can be recruited.
Reynolds said her department would follow the advice of health authorities when prioritising its support arrangements.
“We will continue to ensure Defence medical facilities are appropriately staffed to minimise any impact on our public health system,” she said.
Back in January — when Australia’s focus was on the horror bushfire season rather than a global pandemic — Reynolds commented on the fact that the compulsory call-out of 3000 defence reservists to help with bushfire recovery was a first for Australia.
“The government has not taken this decision lightly. In fact, it is the first time that reserves have been called out in this way in living memory and, in fact, I believe for the first time in our nation’s history,” she said at the time.