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Military returning to work amid readiness concerns as coronavirus stretches on

Click to play video 'Report recommends Canadian troops resume working, training' Report recommends Canadian troops resume working, training
WATCH ABOVE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Canadian soldiers have been told to stay home and stay healthy. But an internal military report obtained by Global News recommends these troops get back at work, or risk losing essential skills. Mercedes Stephenson explains – Jun 3, 2020

The Canadian Forces are getting ready to head back to work as the coronavirus pandemic continues to stretch on and military officials face concerns that keeping activities on pause could reduce readiness.

Roughly 60,000 of the 68,000 members of the Canadian military were ordered into isolation in April as the force shored up its ability to respond to any demands resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: 85% of Canadian troops ordered into isolation to prepare for COVID-19 operations

Since then, recruitment and training have been on pause, along with deployments such as that of a warship and surveillance aircraft to help with enforcement of United Nations sanctions on North Korea.

But as the pandemic stretches on with no end in sight, the military needs to get back to work if it wants to stay ready to respond to any future demands, according to a memo shared with Global News.

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“Conditions are now being set to allow for the resumption of some activities within the CAF in order to restore its capability to conduct future operations,” reads the military memo.

It notes that the military has been responding so far by dipping into its “residual capacity” but that has been “progressively eroded by the cancellation of CAF training and force generation activities.”

“Defence team safety must remain a key planning principle,” the memo continues.

“There are however activities that must be resumed faster than the return to normalcy in order to prevent an excessive erosion of CAF readiness.”

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It goes on to add that the length of the crisis so far has exceeded the business continuity plans that the military had envisioned and that activities need to resume “before the threat subsides.”

Officials told Global News that when the military sent its members into isolation in April, it knew the maximum amount of time that policy could stand would be until June 1.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance addressed the decision to head back to work in a letter to military members and their families last month.

“We will be resuming training and routine operations in the weeks to come so it bears repeating that we will be doing so in an environment where COVID-19 remains a threat,” Vance wrote.

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“Many things about training delivery may seem different for a while as we get the machine going again, but what has not changed is our core purpose to be ready to conduct operations in any domain, anytime, anywhere, to defend Canada and protect Canadians.”

Click to play video 'Canadian military shifts to pre-pandemic planning: Gen. Jonathan Vance' Canadian military shifts to pre-pandemic planning: Gen. Jonathan Vance
Canadian military shifts to pre-pandemic planning: Gen. Jonathan Vance – Mar 4, 2020

The Canadian military is currently assisting in five long-term care homes in Ontario and 25 in Quebec.

Members have raised serious concerns about the conditions in those homes, prompting promises of provincial investigations and widespread horror among families of patients and Canadians writ large.

READ MORE: Military teams raise concerns about conditions at Ontario care homes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the allegations of mistreatment in a military report into the conditions last month “extremely troubling” and vowed nothing is “off the table” when it comes to a potential inquiry or further action to address the matter.

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READ MORE: COVID-19 postpones, curtails multiple Canadian military missions

The request from Ontario and Quebec for military aid came back in April after dozens of long-term care homes across the country saw outbreaks, many severe, of COVID-19 among their staff and patients.

Both provinces have since requested extensions of the military mission deploying members into the homes, with Ontario requesting help until June 12 and Quebec asking for an extension until September.

Click to play video 'Military alleges abuse, neglect at five Ontario long-term care homes' Military alleges abuse, neglect at five Ontario long-term care homes
Military alleges abuse, neglect at five Ontario long-term care homes – May 26, 2020