The UK will use firefighters to help deliver food, retrieve dead bodies and drive ambulances as it braces for the looming peak of the coronavirus outbreak.
The pandemic has already claimed the lives of over 22,000 people across the world.
Britain initially took a strikingly modest approach to the worst health crisis since the 1918 influenza epidemic.
It had, however, changed track to impose stringent controls after projections showed a quarter of a million British people could die.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had ordered a virtual lockdown of the world’s fifth largest economy to prevent the spread of the COVID-19, banning Britons from leaving their homes for all non-essential reasons.
So far, 578 people in the UK had died after testing positive for coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases had risen to 11,658.
According to a Reuters tally, the UK toll is the seventh worst in the world, after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, France and the US.
Under a deal struck between the Fire Brigades Union, Fire chiefs and Fire and Rescue Employers, firefighters would continue to respond to their usual emergencies other than to carry out new tasks.
“We face a public health crisis unparalleled in our lifetimes,” Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said.
According to Wrack, the coronavirus outbreak is now a humanitarian emergency and firefighters rightly want help their communities.
“Many fear the loss of life in this outbreak can be overwhelming and fire-fighters, who often handle terrible situations and incidents, are ready to step in to assist with body retrieval,” he said.
They would, as well, be collecting those who had died should there be mass casualties; firefighters could drive ambulances, and take food and medicine to the vulnerable under the agreement.
Britain, to cope with the outbreak, had already asked tens of thousands of retired doctors and healthcare workers to return to work.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people had volunteered to assist the state-run National Health Service.
The capital’s ambulance service appealed to former paramedics and control room staff for help, and London’s Police Force asked officers who had retired in the last five years to come back.
“It is important that we take all reasonable steps to bolster our numbers,” London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said.