The ADF has recently marked one year since beginning its largest ever domestic operation – supporting the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Since April 1, 2020, more than 16,000 ADF personnel have deployed on Operation COVID-19 Assist to support authorities as they combat a pandemic which, at times, has significantly altered the way of life for many Australians.
The delivery of Defence support on the ground has been led by Joint Task Force 629 (JTF 629) through joint task groups in each state and territory, building on the successful foundations laid during the ADF response during Operation Bushfire Assist.
ADF personnel have deployed on a number of tasks in Australia and overseas, from supporting police vehicle control points in some of the most remote parts of Australia, to working at hotels and international airports in our largest cities to ensure quarantine compliance.
ADF personnel have also been involved in the production of vital medical supplies, frontline COVID-19 testing and vital planning and logistics support.
Commander JTF 629 Rear Admiral Robert Plath praised the efforts of everyone involved.
“All who have had the opportunity to serve in JTF 629 have done so with a sense of great privilege to be part of what has been a truly national effort,” Rear Admiral Plath said.
“Defence has delivered quarantine compliance monitoring, border checkpoints, contract tracing and assisted in processing more than 600,000 returning passengers from international flights.”
The tempo and level of support in the past 12 months has changed in line with outbreaks and requests for assistance from the states and territories.
In the initial phases, the ADF designed and manufactured protective equipment, while providing support at hotels and airports for returning passengers.
It wasn’t long into the operation before the ADF was at the frontline. Last March in Tasmania, all staff at Burnie’s North West Regional Hospital were forced into quarantine after a local COVID-19 cluster emerged.
In support of Emergency Management Australia and the Department of Health, the ADF quickly supplied logistics and specialist staff to keep the hospital running for a fortnight – the first time in the ADF’s history it had operated a domestic emergency department.
The second wave of COVID-19 in Victoria in July, resulted in about 1000 extra ADF personnel deployed to support the government’s response.
ADF personnel performed nearly 280,000 COVID-19 tests, supported Victoria Police in the screening of more than 1,100,000 vehicles at vehicle checkpoints and supported more than 32,000 contact visits, just to name a few of the tasks.
During this outbreak, the NSW Government closed the border with Victoria, and about 500 ADF personnel were deployed to support NSW Police at 20 border checkpoints.
Border closures in various jurisdictions resulted in a large ADF commitment to support police control points, and internal state control points were established at times of outbreaks to stem any potential COVID-19 spread.
In Queensland alone, Defence supported 17 police control points covering the NT, SA and NSW borders, with biosecurity checkpoints supporting Indigenous communities.
This was a significant commitment by full-time and part-time personnel as the Queensland JTG Regimental sergeant Major Warrant Officer Class 1 Andrew Walford outlined.
“The tasks performed by the members of the JTG 629.3 [Queensland] have been challenging, requiring long hours on task, exposure to adverse weather and over-extended distances in remote communities that have welcomed our presence,” Warrant Officer Walford said.
As Operation COVID-19 Assist continues into its second year, there are still more than 1000 personnel involved with a focus on supporting hotel quarantine for returned international travellers and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
More recently, following a request from the Department of Health, ADF vaccine delivery teams have now administered more than 3700 of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccinations at aged care and disability facilities.
As of April 7, 1700 ADF members have received their first dose through phase 1a of the vaccine national roll-out.