The Royal Navy has assigned three helicopters from Culdrose airbase to support the NHS during the Covid-19 crisis.

The task force includes three Merlin Mk2 helicopters and their crews from 820 Naval Air Squadron. The helicopters will be used as ambulances and for transporting supplies and personnel across the South West region.

As part of the move, the submarine-hunting equipment from the helicopter cabins were removed to accommodate several stretchers, passengers and goods. This will also help the helicopters to fly longer distances.

820 Naval Air Squadron Commanding Officer Commander Chris Knowles said: “This is very different from our ordinary role, but jobs like this are in our DNA. We are helping out the nation and the National Health Service during these testing times, it’s a real moment for everyone to pull together.

“It demands a real team effort for us here at Culdrose in terms of getting the aircraft and the crews ready, getting all the logistical support in place, providing air traffic controllers, meteorological information, so that we can operate 24 hours a day.”

The commander added that precautionary measures are being taken to protect the crew from the infection.

This is the second time in the last five years that the squadron has been called to support a medical emergency, after it assisted in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa over the winter of 2014-15.

Commander James Hall, in charge of the Maritime Merlin Force, said: “We are very aware that we have an important role to play in supporting the nation at this difficult time; we will make every effort to provide this contribution and make a difference in our region.”