Paratroopers self-isolate on camp beds in sports hall after evacuating people from Afghanistan
Written by Hit Music Radio News on 01/09/2021
Dozens of paratroopers are self-isolating on camp beds in a large sports hall at their barracks in Colchester after spending two weeks evacuating people from Afghanistan.
One officer, who had been told about the setup, said the conditions sounded disappointingly basic for soldiers who had just endured such a tough and dangerous mission, helping thousands of Afghans to escape the Taliban and the threat posed by the Islamic State.
But a defence source said it was part of a trial by the army to allow service personnel to decompress as a large group rather than individually following a difficult mission – and also to isolate together rather than individually when required because of COVID rules.
“Soldiers as a group can support each other so they are not just stuck in a hotel room by themselves,” the source said. “The whole idea is to try and support their well-being.”
Ross Kemp, the former EastEnders actor who filmed documentaries with British troops in southern Afghanistan, paid the soldiers a visit to boost morale.
Soldiers typically have a period of a few days of what is known as decompression between coming back from an overseas tour and returning home. It is to help adjust from a wartime environment, where they may have been exposed to trauma and violence, to ordinary life.
In addition, during the pandemic, they must follow coronavirus rules to isolate for 10 days when returning from a country like Afghanistan that is on the government’s red list.
A photograph seen by Sky News shows lines of blue-coloured camp beds stretched along the gymnasium floor for the soldiers to sleep in.
As well as trialling the new group isolation method, the soldiers are also the first to trial a softer approach by the UK to returnees from COVID red list countries.
Instead of being required to stay in quarantine for 10 days, the service personnel will only need to stay in group quarantine for half that time if they meet certain conditions.
The defence source said if they have two negative COVID tests then they will be allowed to spend the remaining five days of quarantine in their own home with their family, provided no one in their household is a key worker or classed as vulnerable to coronavirus.
Most of the more than 1,000 British military personnel who took part in Operation Pitting, the name of the mission to evacuate more than 15,000 British, Afghan and other nationals from Kabul airport, are now in quarantine and decompressing in different locations across the UK.
The majority of troops were from the Parachute Regiment.
Paratroopers who live in rooms at their barracks at Colchester are staying in those rooms but coming together in 15-strong bubbles for meals and to keep in contact.
Troops who live with their families in the town are grouped together in 15-strong bubbles in the gymnasium and at least one other building. They have the option to spend the rest of their quarantine period at home following their first five days of gym isolation.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The British Army is trailing a new system of quarantine whereby personnel will stay in bubbles and maintain regular contact with colleagues in order to support each other’s wellbeing after returning from an intense and demanding operation.
“Sites, where soldiers are isolating, have access to sports, welfare and social facilities as well an enhanced package of counselling and psychological support if required.”
Soldiers at the gymnasium have access to TV and WiFi.
© Sky News 2020