• Eight mobile units operated by Armed Forces currently in operation
  • Plans to scale up to 96 units by the start of May
  • Frontline workers, prisons, care homes and police stations among those prioritised 

The government has launched a “network” of mobile coronavirus testing units to boost access to testing for essential workers and the most vulnerable in society.

The mobile testing units are operated by the Armed Forces and will travel around the UK responding to areas of “highest demand”, such as frontline workers, prisons, care homes, benefits centres and police stations.

There are currently eight units operating around the country but there are plans for a “rapid expansion”, with 96 units to be deployed by the start of May.

This scale-up of mobile testing followed a pilot last week, in which Department of Health and Social Care vehicles were refitted to become fully functioning testing sites.

Mobile testing facilities can be set up in under 20 minutes and specially trained Armed Forces personnel will collect swabs. Those tested will receive results within 48 hours, the government said.

The new mobile units will work alongside current drive-through testing sites. Patient samples will be sent to the network of Lighthouse Labs, with the mobile units helping to “rapidly increase” the number of tests done each day, the government said.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has set a target of 100,000 tests to be carried out daily by the end of April. Nearly 30,000 tests were carried out on 23 April, but there is capacity for many more tests to be carried out. 

The mobile units testing scheme follows the announcement last week that other frontline workers and their households would join the priority list for coronavirus testing, alongside the existing commitment to make sure patients and NHS staff are tested for the virus.

Lord Bethell, the minister responsible for testing, said: “Everyone who needs a coronavirus test should be able to have access to one. New mobile testing units will travel the country to provide vital frontline workers with tests so those testing negative to safely return to work.”

“We have built up capacity in the system with new testing facilities backed by Britain’s world-class scientists and industry partners,” he added.

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 frontline of the fight against this pandemic.”