ITV News understands that military planners, looking for ways to prevent the health service from becoming overwhelmed, have scoped out sites in Hatfield, including the University of Hertfordshire, to build an emergency facility for hundreds of people suffering from Covid-19.
Neither the university nor NHS England offered any comment.
The plans are part of the next phase of the government’s strategy to cope with the growing number of patients expected during the coming weeks as the pandemic reaches its peak.
An was opened at the ExCel centre in London today, and new facilities are due to be built in Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and near Birmingham next week. Hospitals in Harrogate and Bristol were announced this morning.
But the rapid rise in the number of ill has forced planners to consider new hospitals in smaller towns not served by the larger medical centres.
Glenn Earlam, chief executive of the chain, confirmed to ITV News that its gym in Southampton was the most likely of its branches to be turned into an emergency hospital. Its club in Hatfield could be used as a "logistics headquarters" for the army while soldiers construct a temporary hospital nearby.
“Southampton, Bushey, Basildon, Ipswich, Cambridge, Norwich Exeter, Bristol - I know [government planners] have visited all of those sites, that’s not to say it will happen in all of those sites at all” he said.
“There are two or three in which they’re particularly keen. They’re keen on conversations around Southampton at the moment.”
“When the NHS and the army started looking around they were looking for really big hangar-like locations that they could turn into either field hospitals or logistics centres.”
Earlier this week ITV News revealed that ice rinks are being considered as potential sites for makeshift mortuaries to deal with a large number of deaths.
But it could take several weeks to prepare ice sheets which were melted in days when Government restrictions forced rinks to close.
It has prompted allegations by some senior figures in the leisure industry that Whitehall officials took too long to ask for their help.