Military teams across Wales have been put in a state of “higher readiness” as they prepare for what might come “further down the line”.
On Thursday, troops will start building 335 beds in the field hospital being constructed at the Principality Stadium, in Cardiff.
Elsewhere, reservist forces from the Royal Welsh, based at Maindy, and serving troops from the Rifles at Chepstow and 14 Signal Regiment at Brawdy, Pembrokeshire, are all ready to jump into action with just 24 hours’ notice.
The scale of the mobilisation of reserved forces for action within the UK is “unprecedented”, said an Army spokesman on Wednesday.
Military Aid to the Civil Authorities (MACA) is only provided when there are “no other options available”, the Army spokesman added. It is the collective term used by the Ministry of Defence to refer to the operational deployment of the UK armed forces in support of the civilian authorities, other government departments and the community as a whole.
Previously, soldiers have been drafted in during national crises, such as the flooding witnessed this winter and during the foot and mouth crisis 20 years ago, for international events like the NATO Summit in Newport and the UEFA Champions League final in Cardiff in 2017. Those latter two events had been “massively pre-planned” with the majority of the input from police, the spokesman said.
“What we are doing at the moment is reactive,” he added.
“These units have been allocated to Wales and we will use them further down the road when some of the things we are expecting come into play.”
The units are now involved in mass planning with the 160 Brigade Army in Wales about how they can help, where they are needed and what they can do.
They have been deployed across Wales, including at the Welsh Government’s emergency coordination centre Wales in Cardiff, the four Local Resilience Fora and the seven Welsh health boards.
The soldiers are still “in the shadows” but are ready to help wherever and whenever help is required.
As part of preparations, the Army in Wales has just finished training 60 soldiers over two days to support the Welsh Ambulance Services NHS Trust.
The training, at the Sennybridge training camp in Powys, was put on at the request of the ambulance service, which is anticipating a surge in demand on staff while numbers have already been depleted by self-isolation.
Jason Killens, chief executive of the Welsh Ambulance Service, said it was necessary in order to be prepared for any eventuality.
Mr Killens said: “As Wales’ national ambulance service, it is only right that we maximise every opportunity available to us to bolster our capacity in order that we can provide the best service possible to people in Wales through the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We need to be prepared for every eventuality and enlisting military support is one of a number of measures we’ve put in place in order to help maintain ambulance services during the outbreak.”
During the two-day training, soldiers tried on Hazmat suits as they were taught how to apply protective gear required for work on the frontline. Soldiers are now ready to accompany paramedics out on calls, although military ambulance drivers will not drive ambulances under blue-lights.
Staff Sergeant Raymond Richardson, who has served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Northern Ireland, said he and 10 others from his 14 Signal Regiment had been wanting to help with the response to the pandemic.
He said: “To get a task like this, where we are directly supporting the NHS, it’s a privilege and an honour.
“Sometimes when you’re deployed on operations you’re away from family or friends, you’re not in the UK, and you can disassociate yourself with what you’re doing and frame it in that environment, then return home and normalise.
“Going out on this task, it’s exciting if a little apprehensive, and it will affect you differently.
“I’ve been to numerous war zones and I’ve personally never seen someone die, or someone dead. So if that happens here it will be a different experience. But we’ve got quite a lot of measures in place to help people who’ve experienced high levels of stress.”
The armed forces have also been training to drive oxygen tankers at the Air Products facility in Port Talbot in order to support the NHS.
Commander Joint Military Command Wales Brigadier Andrew Dawes CBE said it was a “privilege” to help in the fight against coronavirus.
Brigadier Dawes said: “We are humbled to be in a position to provide support to our partners and public service colleagues across Wales at this critical time.
“The Joint Military Command Wales is assisting in a host of liaison, planning and preparatory tasks from Welsh Government level to the four regional resilience fora. We have delivered specific training to enable service personnel to support the Welsh Ambulance Service with additional driving capacity when needed.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said the army had always been part of UK resilience and UK contingency planning: soldiers have skills developed in challenging environments, such as setting up field hospitals in warzones, and to use their skills during the coronavirus crisis could help the country fight the disease.
He said: “The UK’s armed forces are supporting the critical work of our NHS and social care workers and I would like to extend my gratitude towards all those working to tackle the coronavirus in Wales.
“The military is providing the Welsh Government, our ambulance services and the NHS with additional support and expertise. Our armed forces’ personnel are demonstrating selfless commitment and are doing a great job at this incredibly difficult time.
“I am humbled by their efforts and eternally thankful for their support.”