Military response to COVID-19

Faced with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) spread, the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) are taking unprecedented measures to protect the health and well-being of its members, prevent the spread of this disease, and continue essential military operations.

How the military is responding to COVID-19

The Canadian Armed Forces is always ready to respond to emergencies in times of need, as requested by the Government of Canada.

Operation LASER - response to a worldwide pandemic

Operation LASER is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) response to a worldwide pandemic situation.

The Chief of the Defence Staff activated Phase 2: Pandemic alert of Operation LASER on March 2, 2020. On March 13, 2020, he activated Phase 3: Pandemic response.

  • The virus is widespread and being transmitted in the general population
  • The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) response depends on the disease’s impact in each location and local requests for assistance

Learn more about Operation LASER and how the CAF is assisting Canadian communities

Operation LENTUS - disaster relief

Operation LENTUS is the Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) response to forest fires, floods, and natural disasters in Canada.

  • In addition to our response to the COVID-19 crisis, the CAF members are ready to respond in case of forest fires, flooding and natural disasters.
  • The CAF was closely monitoring water levels across the country, but more specifically in the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia to ensure we would be ready to respond to any requests for assistance, as local and provincial governments might be at a reduced capacity to deal with such eventualities due to COVID-19. Summer fires are expected to be stressors to the provinces and territories over the next few months, as their regular capacity to respond through volunteers and government workers is likely to be reduced due to COVID-19. CAF support has not yet been requested.

Learn more about Operation LENTUS

CAF readiness numbers

Our personnel and resources are prepared and have already responded to several requests for assistance to support Canadians.

The Defence Team will continue working with our federal, provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous partners throughout the pandemic to ensure that CAF support is available to Canadians wherever and whenever it is needed most.

At the peak of CAF readiness to respond to Requests for Assistance from the provinces during the COVID pandemic or to respond to natural disasters, a total of approximately 24 000 CAF members were tasked to Operation LASER and Op LENTUS across the CAF.

This breaks down to approximately:

Approximately 14 200 Regular Force members; and

Approximately 9800 Class C Reservists, which included over 1200 Canadian Rangers.

Royal Canadian Navy response

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has taken steps to mitigate the COVID-19 risk to the naval team, both in sea-going and shore-based units, and readied over 2300 members to respond to COVID-19 under Op LASER.

The RCN also provided a team of medical personnel (Physician Assistants, Medical Technicians and Nursing Officers) in addition to some 54 sailors assigned to general duties, to support Long Term Care Facilities in the province of Québec.

Five warships were sent to sea as part of our initial response, where they protected their COVID-free status, and remained ready for Op LASER assignments.

As of May 22, after spending weeks at sea and with conditions improving across the country, our ships returned to a normal readiness posture, enabling most to proceed alongside so our sailors could enjoy some well-earned rest with families and loved ones. The ready duty ships on each coast remain prepared to assist civil authorities for pandemic or other missions if called upon.

Learn more

Canadian Army response

The Canadian Army stands continually ready to deploy solders within hours in support of the Government of Canada. At all times, the Canadian Army maintains an Immediate Response Unit within each Division to respond to domestic emergencies with little or no advance notice, and each Canadian Army Reserve Brigade contains a Territorial Battle Group, focused on support to civil authorities on domestic operations. Additionally, all Reserve Force personnel on Class C contracts will remain on high readiness for OP LASER even while they conduct training or other institutional activities until 31 August 2020.

Royal Canadian Air Force response

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has provided airlift capabilities and personnel to support Operations LASER and LENTUS, while continuing to deliver on their standing commitments at home and abroad. The RCAF took action to ensure the safety of our crews and partners through prudent and appropriate protective health measures. The RCAF remain ready and responsive to NORAD, which is on alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week watching for threats and is ready to defend the U.S. and Canada from attack.

Civilian employees of the Department of National Defence response

All DND civilian employees have and will continue to directly or indirectly support CAF operations with their work. This includes vehicle and fleet maintenance, warehouse management, training, food and cleaning services to name a few ways.

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) has worked to apply their research knowledge to develop solutions, our procurement teams have sourced new equipment to help us fight the virus, and others from across DND have gone above and beyond to solve our most pressing issues.

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Reducing the COVID-19 risk to the Defence Team

As Canada re-opens, protecting the health of Canadians including the Defence Team remains our first priority — it will be essential to avoid or minimize resurgences.

The Defence Team is resuming activities in a progressive, deliberate, and safe manner, to ensure the ongoing and future operational effectiveness of the CAF while protecting the health, safety and overall wellness of our personnel. The department will continue to maintain and support a sizable remote workforce where possible and pragmatic to do so and will ensure that those who are not working remotely from home have access to a safe working environment at DND/CAF establishments.

The Canadian Armed Forces, with the support of the Department of National Defence, have unique skills and roles within Canada and abroad and are relied upon to complete missions of critical importance, including during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To keep the CAF available for employment, a holistic approach to protecting the entire Defence Team is employed, as the risk posed by COVID-19 is universal in nature.

The judicious application of public health measures such as physical distancing, wearing of non-medical face masks, and frequent and thorough hand washing is sufficient for most members of the Defence Team. That said, additional risk mitigation measures are applied to those who have been assigned to complete critical missions or tasks and who may be working in situations that place them at additional risk of virus transmission.

The measures employed depend on the task, mission or circumstances at hand, and may include the vulnerability of given group to potential COVID-19 infection and situations where physical distancing is not feasible. Measures can include screening questionnaires, quarantine, isolation, sequestration (keeping a screened force separate from other people or groups) and operational testing for COVID-19. These measures minimize the risk of an infected person adversely affecting others and the mission, and limiting the impact if they do become infected.

Operational testing for COVID-19, using dedicated resources in addition to the COVID-19 testing available through public health authorities that support all Canadians, is used for asymptomatic persons to ensure they are not unknowingly infected. This testing is conducted where it adds meaningfully to existing screening and mitigations measures, and is prioritized for certain situations. These include operational activities such as deployed operations, NORAD tasks, Search and Rescue, and training (force generation) activities including preparing forces for deployment and key personnel at CAF training institutions. The chain of command provides direction to its personnel when that testing is required. In this way, testing resources are being applied appropriately in combination with other risk mitigation measures to preserve the force and its capabilities.


COVID-19 Layered Risk Mitigation Strategy

Long description follows

Long description

STEP 1: Always apply Public Health Measures (PHM)

All Defence Team Members must consistently adhere to Public Health Measures. These include:

  • Physical distancing;
  • Frequent hand washing;
  • Face covering;
  • Surface washing; and
  • Cough etiquette

Key Points:

  1. 14 day quarantine reduces risk by up to 100 fold.
  2. Adding testing to quarantine provides up to an additional 10 fold risk reduction.
  3. Testing alone reduces the risk by up to 5 fold.

STEP 2: Identify Defence Team core activity

Type of activity being considered:

  • If Operational Activities, then proceed to Step 3.
  • If Force Generation Activities, then proceed to Step 3.
  • If Regular duties, then normally only PHM is required and this activity ends here.

Key Points:

  1. 14 day quarantine reduces risk by up to 100 fold
  2. Adding testing to quarantine provides up to an additional 10 fold risk reduction
  3. Testing alone reduces the risk by up to 5 fold

STEP 3: Identify Layered Risk Mitigation Strategy (LRMS)

In consultation with Senior Medical Authorities (SMA), identify the most appropriate Risk Mitigation Strategy. Determine need for Quarantine OR Operational Testing OR Both.

Factors to consider:

  • Notice to Move;
  • Mission risk;
  • Impact of training delay/cancellation;
  • Group size;
  • Type and Timeline of activity;
  • Feasibility of quarantine;
  • Requirements and restrictions at destination location, and/or partner nations; and
  • Availability of operational testing and results.

STEP 4: Conduct operational testing if required or indicated

Is operational testing required?

  • If yes, then coordinate with Canadian Forces Health Services (CFHS) to order and conduct operational testing.
  • If no, then continue with other aspects of the Layered Risk Mitigation Strategy.

STEP 5: Maintain Force Protection

Continue to maintain Force Health Protection through strict adherence to Public Health Measures.

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COVID-19 cases among CAF Members who worked in Long Term Care Facilities

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has transitioned out of all the Long Term Care Facilities (LTCFs) in Quebec and Ontario, but will maintain a small reserve capacity to respond to any outbreaks that may overwhelm Quebec’s ability to respond rapidly and effectively.

Starting mid-May, CAF and the Department of National Defence (DND) started to provide updates to inform Canadians about the number of CAF members affected by COVID-19, as a result of their work in LTCFs in Quebec and Ontario.

The CAF is still tracking CAF members who are positive, even though all CAF members who were working at LTCFs have left these facilities.

As of July 7, we have no active COVID-19 cases within the CAF population employed on Operation LASER, who worked in LTCFs in Quebec and Ontario. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Ontario
    • Active: 0
    • Resolved: 14
    • Total: 14
  • Quebec
    • Active: 0
    • Resolved: 41
    • Total: 41

Protection and prevention measures

We have taken significant precautions to protect our personnel and to prevent further spread of the virus by adapting its Force Health Protection Measures, Public Health Measures, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protocols accordingly. The CAF is also following expert advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The following preventative or mitigation measures have been adopted by CAF personnel working in long-term care facilities (LTCFs) to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19:

  • CAF members are rigorously practicing good hygiene, including thoroughly washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • When CAF members deploy, they have the proper PPE such as masks, eyewear, gowns or gloves. CAF members understand the PPE requirements based on the tasks being performed and the environment in which they are performed.  
  • While performing their duties, if CAF members cannot avoid being within two-meters of one another, they are wearing appropriate protective gear.
  • All necessary measures are taken to ensure that CAF members are virus-free prior to, during, and directly following deployment on operations.

Before deploying in LTCFs, all CAF personnel were trained in a number of areas including safe movement of patients, protocols for wearing and using PPE. CAF medical personnel received additional training on assisted feeding and bedside care. CAF personnel underwent a familiarization and orientation period in the LTCF establishment to ensure their work was properly structured and effective once they commenced duties. They also received mental health and resilience training to prepare them for the current reality in LTCFs.

Additionally, to limit the spread of infection, the CAF arranged hotels for CAF members providing direct on-site support to LTCFs. Independent food, transportation and laundry services were available to personnel to ensure self-sufficiency.

The CAF understood there was potential for members working in LTCFs to contract COVID-19. This was taken into account in our planning processes, given that our personnel would be operating in high risk environments and working in close proximity to residents who have tested positive or are exhibiting COVID-19 related symptoms.

The CAF took appropriate and decisive measures to mitigate risk to the health, safety and overall wellness of LTCF residents, staff and military personnel. At the first sign of symptoms consistent with COVID-19 the CAF member is placed in isolation for 14 days and/or tested in order to confirm the diagnosis. If required, the member will receive the needed medical and personal support until their health is recovered. Contact tracing is also conducted to help limit the spread of the infection.

CAF members were also required to undergo a 14-day period of self-quarantine before and after deploying, and if they began to display symptoms of coronavirus infection.

At the first sign of symptoms consistent with COVID-19 the CAF member was placed in isolation for 14 days and/or tested in order to confirm the diagnosis. If required, the member would receive the needed medical and personal support until their health is recovered. Contact tracing was also conducted to help limit the spread of the infection.

The health and safety of CAF personnel and their families is paramount and we will continue to take appropriate measures to mitigate the risk to our personnel and preserve our operational capabilities and readiness for current and future deployed operations.

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Preventing the spread among Canadian Armed Forces members

The Canadian Armed Forces is following expert advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and taking precautions to protect our people and to prevent further spread of the virus. These precautions include the following:

  • CAF members rigorously practice good hygiene, including washing hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • When CAF members deploy, they have the proper Personal Protective Equipment such as masks, eyewear, or gloves.
  • While performing their duties, if CAF members cannot avoid being within 2 metres of one another, they wear appropriate protective gear.
  • CAF members are dispersed, and undergo 14-day isolation before and after deployment on operations.
  • Our ships will remain at sea when they return home so that the sailors onboard do not come into contact with the virus.
  • DND/CAF asks their personnel to disclose their potential exposure to COVID-19.
  • Anyone who has developed flu-like symptoms within 14 days of travel to a country experiencing COVID-19 or who comes into contact with someone infected with the virus is asked to seek medical care promptly.

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Timeline – Report of observations CAF personnel supporting Long Term Care Facilities (LTCFs) as part of Operation LASER

We received a question from a reporter and thought the answer would help everybody understand the situation better.

As is the case for any deployed operation – be it domestically or internationally – Canadian Armed Forces members have an obligation to report their observations as they pertain to the mission. It is in this context that CAF personnel supporting Long Term Care Facilities (LTCFs) as part of Operation LASER document and report any observation that could be detrimental to LTCF occupants, their employees and to the mission.

This report reflected what had been dealt with, not what was ongoing. There were no situations that the CAF was unable to deal with.

The intent of reporting these observations is to provide constructive situational awareness to the chain of command and report on any possible issue that might hinder mission success or, more importantly, bring harm to those we serve.

Furthermore, CAF licensed health care providers have legal and professional obligations to report any situations where there are reportable concerns with the professional conduct or practice of an individual health care professional working in a LTCF.

CAF members deployed in LTCFs in Ontario and Quebec reported their observations to facility directors immediately after observing concerns with professional conduct or practices, and immediately took steps to remedy shortfalls in care homes (mentoring, use of PPE, supply chain).

Moreover throughout the reporting process, the CAF ensured that any emergency or potential criminal situation was reported to the police or coroner immediately. The report was intended, therefore, as an operational report on the situation rather than a mechanism to take immediate action for any lifesaving scenario. Those situations were dealt with by our members on the ground.

Issues in the key areas of Standards and Quality of Medical Care were also collated and consolidated in formal medical reporting to ensure that these observations were brought to the attention of chain of command, the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and most importantly, at the individual LTCF.

The observational reports and the letters from Regional Joint Task Forces were received by senior military personnel on 15 May (Ontario) and 21 May (Quebec).

Senior leadership heard their concerns and transparently sent them higher without delay, given their impactful contents.

On the same day each report was received, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) gave direction to prepare formal reports to the Minister of National Defence.

Appropriate care and review was expeditiously applied to prepare and review the reports, both from an operational and a legal lens, in the following days.

The CDS reports (signed on 21 May for Ontario and on 25 May for Quebec) to the Minister of National Defence, were submitted on 22 May (Ontario) and on 25 May (Quebec).

The observations were disclosed in their entirety to Canadians on 26 May by the Province of Ontario and on 27 May by Quebec.

Any suggestion that there was delay in reporting is inaccurate.

It’s important to remember that while these official reports were being processed through the proper channels, CAF personnel on the ground did advise their provincial counterparts of the observations and, more importantly, took actions to address the situation.

Key figures within each province were informally made aware of the general themes of CAF observations so improvements could be made straightaway.

Far more importantly, for the health of the residents who are the focus of all concerned, the CAF shared their general observations with the managing authorities of the designated LTCFs, and each CAF Augmented Civilian Care team addressed their own observations with the LTCF management and the competent medical authority available at each site.

Through the whole process, CAF members on the ground continued to work around the clock to stabilize conditions and improve the quality of life of patients.

We continue to proudly serve Canada’s most vulnerable populations and we will continue to do so while exercising the highest standards of conduct and performance.

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Changes to military operations

The Canadian Armed Forces is taking strides to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among our members while preserving our ability to conduct mission-essential military operations.

Learn about how current military operations have been affected by COVID-19

Event cancellations and delays

All mass gatherings and routines that put people in close contact for voluntary or duty reasons, except essential force generation activities and exercises, have been cancelled or postponed. 

Name Location Announcement
Training programs for Indigenous Peoples National Cancelled
Snowbirds Spring Training Comox, BC Postponed
Canadian Army training exercise Wainwright, Alberta Cancelled
Invictus Games South Holland, Netherlands Postponed
Nijmegen Four Days Marches Nijmegen, Netherlands CAF will not participate
Joint Task Force Nijmegen Departure Parade Ottawa, Ontario Cancelled
Remembrance Ceremony at the Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery Groesbeek, Netherlands Cancelled
Cold Lake Air Show 2020 Cold Lake, Alberta Cancelled
Court Martial proceedings National In the Process of resuming proceedings
All gatherings in the CAF Military Chapels National Cancelled
Headstone Rededication Ceremony Mook War Cemetery, Netherlands Postponed
Canadian Leaders at Sea Halifax, NS
Esquimalt, BC
2020 SkyHawks season National Cancelled
CF-18 Demonstration Team 2020 season National Cancelled

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