Army helicopters set to ‘airlift Covid patients’ from island after rapid infection rise
Chinook helicopters are more often seen transporting troops in warzones (Image: PA)
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Army helicopters could be used to airlift coronavirus patients from the Isle of Wight within days following a rapid rise in infections, according to reports.
Chinooks – more often seen in war zones – are said to be being prepped for action by the end of January after a successful test was carried out.
Cases on the island have surged since Christmas, giving it the 13th highest infection rate in Britain. It is feared that mixing and visitors over the festive period are to blame.
According to the Guardian, the county has recorded 1,871 new cases in 2021 – 43 per cent of its total since the pandemic began. Hospital admissions and deaths are also rising.
The worrying numbers are likely the spark for the proposed use of helicopters, with the island's NHS medical trust director considering "unthinkable options" – such as evacuation.
Chinook helicopters could be used to help reduce infection rates on the island and clear beds
Stephen Parker told the newspaper: "These are unprecedented times for the NHS and they are unprecedented times for the island.
"I think it really is important to realise that we are one of the smallest hospitals in the country; we are challenged about moving patients and we could be overwhelmed."
Mr Parker added that a Chinook had already carried out a test landing on a playing field near St Mary's Hospital ahead of the anticipated military aid.
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The rapid rise in the infection rate has prompted fury among some islanders who blame an influx of visitors from mainland England, such as owners of second homes.
One resident told the County Press he saw "coaches of people piling into local hotels and evening lights ablaze in the many second homes" on the island, whose elderly population are particularly vulnerable to the disease.
The Isle of Wight had considered itself a coronavirus success story throughout most of 2020, managing to keep the virus mostly at bay.
The army could be drafted in to help on the Isle of Wight
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said previously: "Where the Isle of Wight leads, the rest of Britain will follow." The island also led the way with track and trace.
But the island – which has an aged population – has gone from a relatively stable state to a much more worrying position at the start of this year.
Twenty-two residents died of Covid-19 in the first ten days of January – nearly 20 per cent of its total since the crisis began. Its deadliest month so far was May, with 39 deaths.
The Isle of Wight was one of just three places in the country placed into Tier 1 following the lifting of lockdown restrictions in December.
This meant mixing in groups of up to six was allowed, with pubs and hotels open, until further measures were put into place.
David Stewart, the Conservative leader of Isle of Wight council, said he would meet with police and ferry companies to discuss what could be done to identify those flouting the rules recently.