The military is to begin testing essential workers around the UK for coronavirus in mobile units which will operate in “hard to reach” areas.
The British military is to begin operating mobile coronavirus testing units that will travel to care homes, police stations and prisons across the UK.
The units will test essential workers and vulnerable people in areas where there is “significant” demand, the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
The mobile facilities can be set up in less than 20 minutes and allow for hundreds of people to be tested each day.
Specially trained members of the armed forces will collect swabs at the mobile sites before they are sent to “mega-labs” for processing, with results available within 48 hours, the DHSC said.
The armed forces will staff 92 of the units, while civilian contractors will operate a further four located in Northern Ireland, the government said.
It follows successful pilot last week where eight mobile units were used to test key workers in Salisbury, Southport and Teesside.
Prof John Newton, who is co-ordinating coronavirus testing for the government, said these new mobile testing units would help achieve the goal of performing 100,000 tests a day by “providing tests to vital frontline workers wherever they need them”.
He said efforts to increase capacity had resulted in “scores of new testing facilities and Britain’s largest network of diagnostic labs in history”.
The UK has come a long way on testing. When the first cases of coronavirus emerged, the government was reliant on eight Public Health England labs, which could carry out little more than 1,000 tests a day.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, 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 frontline of the fight against this pandemic.”
Earlier this month, Matt Hancock outlined a five-stage plan to increase testing in Britain, which started with NHS hospitals and named mobile and drive-through facilities for key workers in the second stage.
The next stage is blood testing for antibodies in the wider population, followed by “UK-wide surveillance testing” to learn more about the spread of coronavirus, and finally a “mass-testing capacity”.
Since Friday, millions of key workers and people they live with have been able to book appointments online to be tested. Those too ill to travel should also be able to order home kits – although numbers are limited.
On Sunday morning home kits were no longer available within 15 minutes of the site reopening at 08:00 BST.
Meanwhile,the PM will return to work in Downing Street on Monday morning.
It is just over two weeks since Boris Johnson was released from hospital, where he was treated in intensive care for coronavirus.
On Saturday, the number of people confirmed to have died with Covid-19 in hospitals in the UK passed 20,000, with another 813 deaths announced.