TWENTY thousand troops are ready to join the fight against coronavirus as 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.
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The death toll from the coronavirus has now reached 104 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 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.
More powers are also being looked at to keep people at home and troops will be deployed in a bid to help the nation handle the escalating crisis.
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.
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.
London has found itself at the heart of the UK's coronavirus crisis, with almost 1,000 confirmed cases.
Boris Johnson said this evening when directly asked about a London lockdown and whether people's restriction could be limited: "We've always said that we are going to do the right measures at the right time.
He told the country: "We live in a land of liberty, we don’t tend to impose those sort of restriction.
"But I have to tell you: we will rule nothing out. We will bring forward further and faster measures where necessary."
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Pubs, restaurants and even all but food shops and chemists could be ordered to shut, and in one extreme scenario all but essential workers could be asked to stay at home all day.
The orders will leave London – where contagion is spreading faster – on the same emergency footing as Paris, Brussels and Milan where most people are largely confined to their homes.
In a dressing down to some Londoners who have flouted his appeal to avoid all unnecessary social contract, the PM reminded them that “everyone must follow the advice”
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