A drive-through coronavirus testing facility for health workers has begun operating in the car park of a popular resort near London, part of a British government drive to ramp up testing for those on the frontline of the epidemic.
The Chessington World of Adventures theme park, which usually hosts families seeking a fun day out, has turned one of its main car parks into a testing unit for National Health Service (NHS) staff, a spokeswoman said on Saturday.
The government, which had been criticized by some doctors and nurses for not providing them with enough protective gear and testing kits, announced on Friday it was introducing a much bigger testing regime for the NHS. The United Kingdom has so far reported 14,579 cases of the virus and 759 deaths, with the peak of the epidemic in the country expected to come in several weeks.
The country is largely on lock-down, with Britons urged to stay home. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and health minister Matt Hancock are among those who have tested positive.
The minister for Scotland, Alister Jack, announced on Saturday that he had developed a mild temperature and a cough in the past 24 hours and was now working from home in isolation. Jack has not been tested for coronavirus. He answered questions on Scottish issues from lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday, immediately before Johnson spoke in the weekly Prime Minister's Questions session, during which Jack was seated on the government bench behind Johnson.
Efforts were under way in multiple parts of the country to keep building up the NHS's capacity to cope with the epidemic. The unit at Chessington, which is being run by health ministry officials and conducted its first tests on Friday, consists of a series of cabins widely spread out across the car park. Staff in high-visibility jackets are on hand to direct NHS staff arriving in cars. For now, only those who have been specifically referred for testing will be given access.
The health workers, who remain in their cars, are tested by nurses who carry out swabs in the nose and mouth through car windows. "We are proud to be able to offer our assistance to the NHS during this unprecedented time," the theme park said in a statement. The government said on Friday that it had set up a new partnership with firms including Thermo Fisher Scientific, Randox and Boots, and with top UK universities, to scale up the testing regime.
The first of three new hub laboratories that are being put into place is expected to process around 800 samples over the weekend. The number of tests being processed will then rise dramatically, according to the health ministry. The NHS is also setting up three new temporary hospitals in London, Birmingham and Manchester. At the enormous Excel Centre trade show venue in east London, large numbers of ambulances and paramedics were on site on Saturday as part of preparations for the facility to open next week.
The government also said it was starting to deliver food boxes to people deemed at high risk from the illness, who have been advised by the NHS to stay at home for 12 weeks. In what it described as the biggest effort to deliver supplies to those in need since World War Two, the ministry of housing, communities and local government said the first of 50,000 free food boxes containing items such as pasta and tinned goods would be delivered over the weekend.
Some 1.5 million clinically vulnerable people have been advised to shield themselves at home for 12 weeks. Like numerous other countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Britain has brought in strict social distancing measures. The public have been instructed to stay at home, going out only to buy food or medicines or for exercise once a day. Schools, shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes are closed and anyone who can work from home is expected to do so.