The Armed Forces join the fight against Covid-19 in Spain
3/30/2020 |

Efectivos de la UME en Fuerteventura. Foto: EFE/ Carlos De Saá

Thousands of members of the Military Emergency Unit (MEU) have joined the fight against Covid-19 and are carrying out fundamental work, such as disinfecting residences and public spaces, transporting medicines and setting up field hospitals, like the one installed in record time at IFEMA
While the health personnel, with their admirable professionalism and limitless capacity for sacrifice have taken up the battle against Covid-19 in hospitals and medical centres, the men and women who make up our armed forces have taken up the battle in our streets and public spaces to ensure our safety and well-being, in a huge mobilisation that is taking place all over the country.  

Operation Balmis

Fifteen hours after the state of emergency was declared the Military Emergency Unit (EMU) was deployed throughout Spain. Military personnel from the army, the navy and the air force, were put in charge of guaranteeing the safety and well-being of citizens in situations of serious risk, catastrophe or other public needs. 

Although Operation Balmis was initially deployed in the areas where the EMU had the largest contingents (Madrid, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, León, Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife), by 24 March it had been extended to the 17 autonomous regions, including Ceuta and Melilla, with more than 2,682 military personnel in 135 cities throughout Spain. Among them, in addition to the bulk of the EMU troops themselves, are members of the army and navy, including members of the Spanish Legion, the Airborne Light Brigade, the Marines and the Extremadura Brigade. 

In the deployment of the armed forces, military doctors have also been called into action and the military pharmacy has been instructed to increase the production of hydroalcoholic disinfectant solution, as well as other generic medicines that may be required.   

Members of the Armed Forces performing security and disinfection tasks in Córdoba. Photo: EFE / Rafa Alcaide


Disinfection and recognition

In order to stop the Covid-19 from spreading, the constant disinfection of infrastructures, public spaces, hospitals, buildings and institutions is essential and this work is currently being carried out by the EMU and the armed forces. In addition to providing extra security, information and awareness among the population. 

During the first eight days of the state of emergency, the armed forces disinfected nearly 800 health facilities and some 310 homes for the elderly, in addition to government administration facilities, including airports, ports and railway stations, prisons and traffic facilities.  

Safety on the streets

The armed forces are also supporting the National Security Forces (The Police and Civil Guard) in their work and helping to patrol the streets and critical areas around the country. Members of the armed forces who are involved in tasks related to the coronavirus crisis will also have the status of law enforcement officers. This entitles them to give orders and sanction civilians who are not complying with the mobility restrictions, which are necessary in order to contain Covid-19. They are also providing extra support at key points around the country such as the Almaraz, Trillo and Cofrentes nuclear power plants.  

Logistic support

The third area of action being undertaken by the armed forces is logistical support by providing air and land transport and includes organising the reception and distribution of medical material, the transport of patients and, more recently, transferring those who have died of coronavirus in Madrid from hospitals to cemeteries or other facilities that have been set up for this purpose.

The government of Madrid and the Military Emergency Unit carrying out the sanitary conditioning of pavilion 9 of IFEMA. Photo: EFE/Comunidad de Madrid


Field hospitals

Operation Balmis
is also devoting its efforts to help plan and install field hospitals in IFEMA, Alcalá de Henares and 12 de Octubre in Madrid; the emergency camps in IFEMA in Madrid, the Fira de Barcelona, León, Cádiz, San Fernando, Ceuta and Las Palmas; and the distribution of food, that is taking place in Cartagena. One of the greatest demonstrations of the enormous effort and work that is being carried out by the UME (in collaboration with other workers and civil servants) is the work taking place at the IFEMA facilities. In record time and in a period of just 5 days, a space was set up to accommodate 5,500 hospital beds and more intensive care units. Installations emulating giant hospital wards have been set up and are all equipped with toilet and shower facilities, disinfecting stations, a laboratory and all the necessary medical equipment to treat patients.  

Support for the homeless

The armed forces are also helping one of the most vulnerable groups in the current health crisis: the homeless. Coordinated by Social Services, they are helping the homeless by delivering food, drink and hygiene kits, as well as offering guidance on prevention and assistance measures. They are also working with Civil Protection professionals and the State Security Forces, to help social services with the distribution of food, helping to set up food kitchens and other necessary spaces for homeless people, such as the one in IFEMA.