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 including contributing to the national response to the pandemic.

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 (CAF) are ready to respond wherever and whenever the government needs us to protect Canadians and minimize the impacts of the pandemic. We get called in to support overwhelmed civilian facilities, always with support of the civil authorities.

In the first months of the pandemic CAF personnel:

  • deployed to long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario,
  • directly supported northern and remote communities,
  • assisted the Public Health Agency of Canada in managing and distributing personal protective equipment, and
  • helped Public Health Ontario with contact-tracing efforts.

We will continue to plan for and respond to the needs of our nation. We can conduct simultaneous operations, responding to COVID-19, natural disasters, and other activities necessary to the defence of Canada and its interests.

We are continuing with critical tasks such as training, recruiting, and operations, while ensuring that we are always prepared to provide assistance when needed. The Defence Team rigorously applies public health measures and additional risk mitigation measures.

Operation LASER - response to a worldwide pandemic

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

We are currently in 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 VECTOR – CAF support for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

The CAF are prepared to assist federal, provincial and territorial partners with:

  • Logistical and planning support
  • Assistance from well-trained military personnel
  • Transportation of medical equipment and supplies to remote communities

Learn more about Operation VECTOR

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COVID-19 vaccines for Defence Team members

Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread and reduce the impact of infectious diseases. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, which has been approved by Health Canada and received by the CAF, started being distributed and administered to the first priority group in early January 2021, in accordance with the rollout of vaccine supply.

To learn more about the CAF rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, visit COVID-19 vaccines for Defence Team members

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 for at least 20 seconds.

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
  • use of Personal Protective Equipment such as masks, eyewear, or gloves
  • 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 September 26, 2022, the number of active, resolved and total cases of COVID-19 within the CAF population:

  • All current active cases: 109
  • All resolved cases: 10203
  • Total of all positive cases since the beginning of the pandemic: 10312
  • 7-day moving average of active cases: 131

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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Canadian Forces Health Services

The Canadian Forces Health Services (CFHS) is responsible for the care and well-being of approximately 68,000 Regular Forces members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), as well as reservists on operations or on full-time service in excess of 180 days.

The military’s healthcare system is unique in that the CAF is responsible for the provision of healthcare to its members. Through the Canada Health Act, CAF members are excluded from provincial and territorial health care coverage responsibilities. Much like a provincial or territorial health care system, CFHS is structured for internal use, and any external employment is at the expense of its core mandate.

The CFHS mandate is to:

  • Support the health of our troops – both at home and abroad
  • Train and educate health services personnel coming up through the system
  • Deploy health services in support of overseas operations

In order to carry out this mandate, the CAF employ about 2,500 Regular Force medical professionals across a wide spectrum of about 19 military occupations. Over the course of the pandemic, CFHS strength has decreased to the point where it can only fill 60% of its mandated tasks.

Even if many of its clinicians achieved their basic qualification from the civilian sector, CFHS must generate their own forces by providing additional training specific to the military environment. They need to use their own members to train medical personnel in a variety of health services occupations. There is no civilian substitute for this type of work.

Healthcare, screening, vaccinations and testing are all needed to ensure our troops are ready and prepared to deploy when needed. Ensuring CAF personnel are healthy means they are ready to deploy with reduced risk of medical emergencies, thus repatriation, while deployed.

CFHS capacity has become the limiting factor for the generation of many CAF capabilities, from recruit medicals to the size of training exercises. The health of the CAF is predicated on the health of CFHS, and both need to be reconstituted.

Of note:

  • Of the 155 Requests for Federal Assistance received by the Government of Canada since the start of the COVID pandemic, the CAF has provided support to 111 of them.
  • CFHS Operational readiness has been reduced by 40% as a result of the pandemic.
  • The CAF has less than 50% of required physicians available to deploy along with 75% of nurses and 65% of medical technicians.
  • CAF has provided support to long-term care facilities in Ontario and Quebec; First Nations communities; hospitals in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario.
  • CAF has also provided vaccine distribution and administration to multiple communities across Canada.

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