THREE UK towns are to have hundreds of British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force military personnel mobilised onto their streets organising mass coronavirus testing – after Liverpool’s city-wide swabbing programme was launched last Friday.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce today that more than 100,000 people will be told to get tested in the three towns, including one in the Midlands and another in the south of England.
Johnson has ordered the mass-swabbing in order to identify ‘asymptomatic’ people – those with the virus who don’t show symptoms – who will then be ordered to ‘self isolate’.
Johnson is to announce the plan to ensure the testing regime expands hugely during November, saying it will help him to guarantee the current national lockdown will be lifted on December 2.
Around 1,000 soldiers will be deployed to get people tested in the three towns, which are due to be identifed today.
A government spokesman said yesterday: ‘The point about mass testing is that if you can test a lot of people who have the virus, but don’t have symptoms, and you can get them to isolate, you can reduce the spread of the disease.’
Further sites have also been selected in Wales and Scotland for a third wave of mass weekly testing and they will be announced shortly.
Later this week, the government is also expected to reduce the time required to self-isolate from 10 or 14 days to seven days.
Whitehall says that the Department of Health wants to use the army to lead the nationwide ‘moonshot’ testing programme.
More than 2,000 troops were sent to Liverpool last week to begin mass testing the city’s 500,000 people.
Lieutenant-General Tyrone Urch, who commands the 7,500-strong ‘Covid Support Force’, said thousands more military personnel are on standby if required to expand the mass testing regime.
He said: ‘First and foremost this is a pilot. We don’t know where it will go. It has potential to roll out more widely.
‘I am sure if government demands it and the secretary of state Ben Wallace approves we could do the same again. This is definitely scalable.’
Up to 12,000 Liverpudlians were screened for coronavirus last Friday, the first day of the city’s mass testing programme.
The city’s public health director Matt Ashton said that initial progress was ‘very encouraging’ despite hour-long queues where people mixed with others who were potentially infected with the virus.
He said they are ‘still working on the numbers’ but initial estimates suggest there were about 1,500 to 2,000 people tested at each of the six testing sites.
A further eight sites were opened on Saturday, as the government ramped up capacity to reach its target of 50,000 tests a day once the city-wide programme becomes fully operational.
Residents decried the first day of mass testing as a ‘shambles’ because those who were well were forced to mingle in hour-long queues with people potentially infected with Covid-19.
The Department of Health is to publicly release the results of how many positive swabs it has completed, a spokesman said.
• There are fines of up to £10,000 for failure to self-isolate after testing positive.