Covid-19: Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

Defence – in the House of Commons on 12th May 2020.

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Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

Two hundred and seventy-five civilian scientists and 13 embedded military personnel from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory are currently deploying their unique capabilities right across Government. That includes statistical analysis, decontamination trials, assistance on testing laboratories, and experiments on how the virus survives in the atmosphere.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

It has been reported that the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory is conducting studies on Citriodiol, an ingredient found in insect repellent, to test its effect on covid-19. Can the Minister tell us if and how our armed forces are involved in those tests? If the tests show that the ingredient is effective against the virus, when will it be available for use on the covid frontline?

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As the hon. Lady will be aware, Citriodiol is a natural extract of lemon eucalyptus oil, and it is readily available to the public in a range of insect repellents. It has been issued to members of the armed forces to use at their discretion if they wish to. We are aware that it was efficacious against SARS. There is no evidence as yet as to whether it is useful against covid-19, but I can confirm, as per the hon. Lady’s question, that, at the request of the Surgeon General, DSTL is conducting tests on this product to see whether it is efficacious. If it is, we will of course let the House know and let that be known more widely as soon as possible.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

May I, too, put on the record my thanks to the armed forces, particularly for helping with building the NHS Louisa Jordan in my home city, Glasgow?

This Citriodiol issue is deeply serious. The Minister has just said himself that there is no evidence that it is effective in the fight against covid-19, yet it was dished out to the armed forces without being tested. Can he tell us on what basis it was given out? Will he publish the guidance that was given to members of the armed forces? Did it go through an ethics committee? Who signed off on it without it being tested? A false sense of security can be deadly.

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence

As I emphasised in response to Patricia Gibson, Citriodiol is a natural product—it is a natural extract of lemon eucalyptus oil—and it is readily available to the public as an insect repellent. We know that it was efficacious in the past, and the view was that if it was efficacious against SARS in the past, it may have properties that are useful against covid-19, but we have been very clear that that is not as a result of tests. It is very early days. Those tests are ongoing. If they prove that there are positive properties, that will be shared. However, this is just one very small element in a range of protections provided to our armed forces personnel, including appropriate PPE and all the appropriate hygiene and other instructions that are widely shared and widely known.