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. For the latest information and resources for the Defence Team related to COVID-19 visit Defence Team – COVID-19.

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

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Reducing the COVID-19 risk to the Defence Team

Our first priority is to protect the health of Canadians. This includes protecting the health, safety and overall wellness of the Defence Team as we continue to conduct activities.

The Canadian Armed Forces, with the support of the Department of National Defence, are still relied upon to complete missions of critical importance during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

That’s why the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have a safe, holistic and progressive approach to resuming work in the workplace.

Where possible, Defence Team personnel will continue to work from home. Otherwise, they will have access to a safe environment in the workplace.

All members of the Defence Team must strictly follow public health measures including:

  • physical distancing, staying 2 metres apart from other people;
  • wearing non-medical face masks; and
  • frequent and thorough hand-washing.

CAF members completing critical missions or working in situations where physical distancing is not possible may be required take additional safety measures which could include:

  • operational testing for COVID-19
  • screening questionnaires
  • quarantine, isolation, or sequestration

Operational testing for COVID-19 may be used in combination with other risk mitigation measures, and is prioritized for CAF members participating in certain priority missions to ensure that they are not unknowingly infected, even if they do not show symptoms. These missions may include:

  • deployed operations
  • NORAD tasks
  • Search and Rescue activities
  • training activities including preparing forces for deployment and key personnel at CAF training institutions


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

As of November 23, 2020, the number of active, resolved and total cases of COVID-19 within the CAF population:

  • All current active cases: 25
  • All resolved cases: 416
  • Total of all positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic: 441

These numbers apply to the whole of the CAF regardless of location or mission since the beginning of the pandemic.

Leadership is closely monitoring the extent of COVID-19 in the Defence Team. The rigorous application of public health measures and the Defence Team layered risk mitigation strategy is effectively containing the spread of the virus amongst our personnel.

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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.
  • 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.
  • CAF personnel are encouraged to download the COVID-19 Alert app on their personal mobile devices.

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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

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