Explainer: What the Canadian military is doing for Canadians during the pandemic

Canadian Armed Forces members are mobilizing to help provinces and territories

Canadian Armed Forces members are mobilized to help provinces and territories amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic upon request (wikipedia)

Emergencies are first handled by local authorities and municipal services such as firefighters, the police and medical professionals, but when first responders are overwhelmed, provinces and territories can request support from the federal government.

After the request is approved, the federal government’s response is managed by Public Safety Canada, who may ask the Canadian Armed Forces for help by stepping in under Operation LENTUS, the Canadian Armed Forces response to natural disasters in Canada.

The same request process applies to the COVID-19 pandemic, only the CAF is responding under Operation LASER — the activation of Contingency Plan LASER “for the response to a pandemic of influenza-like disease.”

Operation LASER consists of four phases. Phase one is pandemic preparedness, involving mitigation planning and monitoring of potential worldwide pandemic threats.

Phase two, which began on March 2, is pandemic alert. This includes active monitoring of an evolving pandemic threat and implementing some restrictions.

Phase three is the CAF’s response to the pandemic. This means the CAF is able to deploy when help is requested and approved from a province or territory.

Phase four is post-pandemic restoration, which is the resumption of CAF services and operations to normal levels. Phase one is also resumed.

Since March 13 the CAF has been at phase three after the Chief of the Defence Staff, Jonathan Vance, approved the CAF response to the pandemic.

Last month the federal government prepared 24,000 members of the Canadian Armed Forces, a total of one quarter of their regular and reserve members, to deploy in the event that a province requested their support.

Since then, Quebec has requested the CAF’s assistance. The province specified that it needed medical personnel to help nursing homes struggling with outbreaks of COVID-19 and staff shortages.

Quebec’s request was approved by the federal government and CAF medical personnel have arrived at five nursing homes.

On April 22, Ontario also requested help from the federal government and the CAF for their long-term care nursing homes, which was approved the following day.

CAF medical officers must have completed a medical degree from an accredited university before applying to the Medical Officer Training Program (MOTP). Once completed and accepted into the MOTP, officers are trained within the military to ensure their performance follows under military policies and in environments abroad.

This includes the completion of the Basic Military Officer Qualification in Quebec before they can complete the Common Health Services course, which is provided by the Defence Learning Network. They also attend the Canadian Forces Health Services Training Center in Borden, Ontario, where they “are introduced to the organizational structure and history of the Canadian Forces Medical Service and the unique circumstances of practicing military medicine.”

Medical officers then can choose to either specialize their medical practice or acquire advanced training in several fields of medicine.

CAF members are also helping process materials for Personal Protective Equipment at Public Health Agency warehouses across Canada. In Northern Canada, they are prepared to assist remote communities to combat outbreaks.

The CAF has activated three Northern Saskatchewan Ranger Patrols, gathering firewood for residents during their winter season as the pandemic continues.

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