Armed forces will collect swabs from care homes, police stations and prisons across UK
The British military is to begin operating mobile coronavirus testing units that will travel to care homes, police stations and prisons across the UK.
At least 96 new pop-up facilities, which will travel to care homes, police and fire stations, prisons and benefits centres, are due to be running by May.
It comes as the government looks to reach its target of carrying out 100,000 tests per day by Thursday.
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 mobile sites will also be used to travel to frontline workers in the fire and rescue service and at benefits centres.
The defence secretary, Ben 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.”
More than 20,000 people have died with coronavirus in the UK.
A further 336 deaths of people with coronavirus have been announced in England, along with 18 more in Scotland and 14 more in Wales. A UK-wide update on the total number of coronavirus-related deaths to date is expected imminently.
Figures from Saturday showed that 28,760 coronavirus tests were taken in the previous 24 hours, far short of the government’s daily target of 100,000 – which it aims to achieve by the end of April.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show the government has to “ramp testing right up” but added it was “on track” to hit its target.
“We have certainly got to get the daily testing right up to hundreds of thousands which, along with the tracking and tracing, gives us… more flexibility because we can open up measures, open up access,” Mr Raab said.
“That, along with the vaccine and therapeutics will be the medium to long-term way of dealing with coronavirus sustainably and responsibly for good.”
The number of units is being scaled up after a successful pilot last week, with eight mobile units already testing key workers on Sunday, in areas including Salisbury, Southport and Teesside.
The extra 80-or so units, expected to be running by the start of May, would travel to areas where there was “significant demand”, the government said.
The armed forces will staff 92 of the units, while civilian contractors will operate a further four located in Northern Ireland, the DHSC said.