Why the war on Covid-19 needs an extra 73,180 soldiers

The more than 73,000 additional soldiers come from different branches, including the air force, navy and military health services.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

Soldiers will now move beyond just enforcing the lockdown regulations on the streets, with the additional personnel set to screen people at roadblocks, set up field hospitals and deliver water to communities.

President Cyril Ramaphosa deployed an additional 73,180 defence force members on Tuesday to support government departments and to control borders to combat the spread of the coronavirus in all nine provinces until the end of June.

Yesterday, secretary of defence Dr Sam Makhudu Gulube briefed parliament’s joint standing committee on defence about the latest deployment. He said most of the deployed soldiers would be helping the department of health with the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic through tasks such as quarantining civilians and delivering personal protective equipment (PPE) to those on the ground.

The additional soldiers include members of the air force, navy, military health services, military police, defence intelligence, legal services, operational communication, technical services and finance accounting, among others.

Through the SA military health services, they will establish military field hospitals in the provinces most affected by Covid-19, including Gauteng, Western Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal.

The hospital facilities will have beds, oxygen generators, dialysis machines and intensive care units.

The SANDF yesterday briefed the parliamentary committee on defence on the deployment of more soldiers by Ramaphosa this week at a revised budget of R4.5bn.

Gulube said the budget was also allocated to procure PPE items such as masks and gloves for the soldiers on the ground.

“The military health service is presently at the stage of deploying field hospitals at the grounds of 1 Military Hospital [in Pretoria] and also field hospitals on the grounds of two military hospitals in Cape Town and field hospitals on the grounds of three military hospitals in Bloemfontein,” Gulube said.

“KwaZulu-Natal is one of the provinces that are the epicentres of the viral epidemic. We do not have a military hospital in KZN, so we will be establishing temporary facilities on the grounds of the Natal Military Command Centre.”

He said they would establish four military hospitals as well as a number of other field hospitals in other areas, including the Pretoria Showgrounds and others in the Eastern Cape.

Gulube said the health facilities were expensive and that they were looking into making them permanent.

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