Military to man nearly 100 mobile coronavirus testing units

26 April 2020, 08:56

Mobile coronavirus testing units run by the military will be set up across the UK in May
Mobile coronavirus testing units run by the military will be set up across the UK in May. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Soldiers are to begin testing key workers at 96 mobile coronavirus units across the UK as the government aims to hit its target of 100,000 tests per day.

The military will travel to care homes, police stations, prisons and other "hard to reach" areas around the country to carry out Covid-19 tests, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Essential workers and vulnerable people in areas where there is "significant" demand will have access to the new mobile facilities "in the coming weeks," according to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.

It comes as the government faces mounting pressure to reach its 100,000-a-day testing target by Thursday.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told the daily Downing Street coronavirus press conference on Saturday that 28,760 tests were carried out on Friday - just over a quarter of the target.

In total, 517,836 people in the UK have been tested for the disease.

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The mobile testing units will allow hundreds of people to be tested each day and will take just 20 minutes to set up, the DHSC added.

People will be swabbed by specially-trained members of the armed forces before their samples are sent to "mega-labs" for processing.

Results should be available within 48 hours.

There are already eight of the facilities set up around the UK as of Sunday, in areas including Salisbury, Southport and Teesside.

However, the DHSC said "at least" 96 will be ready to be deployed by the start of May.

Last week, a pilot scheme involving the refitting of DHSC vehicles to become testing units was carried out.

Military personnel will staff 92 of the units, while in Northern Ireland there will be four which are manned by civilian contractors.

Frontline workers in the fire and rescue service and at benefits centres will also be tested at the mobile facilities.

Mr Wallace said: "Our armed forces will help deliver testing to where it's most needed, using a network of up to 96 mobile units that will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

"They will make sure our care sector get the testing required to remain in the front line of the fight against this pandemic."

National testing coordinator Professor John Newton added: "New mobile testing units will help us achieve our goal of 100,000 coronavirus tests a day, providing tests to vital frontline workers wherever they need them.

"In a matter of weeks, we have worked with Britain's leading scientists, academics and industry partners to build scores of new testing facilities and Britain's largest network of diagnostic labs in history."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced this week that more than 10 million key workers and their households are now eligible for Covid-19 tests, which can now be booked online through the Government's website.

However, for two days in a row, home tests ran out within minutes of becoming available on the government's website.

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