Covid: Army brought in to assist with 'rapid turnaround' testing of 'whole cities'

Members of the armed forces have been assisting with the UK's coronavirus testing regime for months. Credit: PA

The Army has been drafted in to assist with the roll-out of "rapid turnaround" coronavirus testing, which Boris Johnson said could see "whole cities" tested for Covid-19.

The prime minister, who also said there's a "realistic hope of a vaccine in the first quarter of next year", revealed there is the "immediate prospect" of using millions of "rapid turnaround tests" which diagnose coronavirus in ten to 15 minutes.

He said a "steady but massive expansion" in the roll-out of the tests is planned for the "next few days and weeks".

They could be applied in an "ever-growing number of situations", he said, such as "helping women to have their partners with them in labour wards when they’re giving birth to testing whole towns and even whole cities".

He added: "The Army has been brought in to work on the logistics and the programme will begin in a matter of days."

The tests have already been trialed in schools and hospitals across the country, Mr Johnson said.

In a press conference in which he announced a new month long lockdown for England, Mr Johnson attempted to strike a more optimistic tone with talk of rapid testing.

But he also warned how the NHS could be overwhelmed if not action was taken to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The Prime Minister said there was a risk that, without action, “for the first time in our lives, the NHS will not be there for us and our families”.

He further warned:

– Some hospitals could run out of capacity “in a matter of weeks”.

– Millions of patients with other medical needs could be denied care.

– Thousands could die from Covid-19 every day.

– Medics would be forced to chose “who would live and who would die”.

– The virus is doubling faster than capacity can be expanded.

Mr Johnson warned there will be "several thousand" deaths a day, "far" more than the first peak of coronavirus, if action isn't taken.

Without further action, the NHS will breach its fixed and surged bed capacity -including beds in Nightingale hospitals - by the first week of December even if planned operations are cancelled, according to modelling by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M), which advises Government scientists, Mr Johnson said.

He said NHS capacity would be impacted so much that doctors and nurses would be forced to decide "who would live and who would die".

Meanwhile, scientists warned the number of deaths in the second peak of the virus had the potential to be “twice as bad, or more” than the first.

There are now almost 11,000 people in hospitals across the UK – including 978 on ventilators.

A number of hospitals have already been forced to postpone some of their other work to cope with the pressures of Covid-19 patients.

Watch Boris Johnson's press conference in full: