The United Kingdom will use firefighters to help deliver medicine and food, retrieve dead bodies and drive ambulances as it braces for the looming peak of the coronavirus outbreak that has already claimed the lives of more than 22,000 people across the world.
Under a deal struck between the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Fire chiefs and Fire and Rescue Employers, firefighters will continue to respond to their usual emergencies but will now also carry out new tasks.
“We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes. The coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities,” said Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary.
“Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak could be overwhelming and firefighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval.”
As well as collecting those who die should there be mass casualties, firefighters can drive ambulances, and take medicine and food to the vulnerable under the agreement.
To cope with the outbreak, Britain has already asked tens of thousands of retired doctors and healthcare workers, including pharmacists, to return to work, while hundreds of thousands of people have volunteered to assist the NHS.
So far, 578 people in the UK have died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases has risen to 11,658. The UK toll is the seventh worst in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the United States, according to a Reuters tally.