A drive-through coronavirus testing facility is about to open this week at Bristol Airport, ministers have revealed.
The facility is one of a number of testing centres being set up around the country, including one already up-and-running in the car park at Ashton Gate.
The facility is operating on an ‘appointment-only’ basis for NHS staff and other key workers, initially for those who have been isolating with symptoms, or who have a family member who have symptoms.
The facility at Bristol Airport is to follow 32 already set up, including the one at the home of Bristol City, and the aim initially is to get as many care staff back to work as soon as possible.
There has been widespread criticism of the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly when it comes to the tiny amount of testing being carried out in comparison with other countries.
The UK has consistently been at the bottom of the league table of the numbers of tests being carried out per head of population – something which went against World Health Organisation appeals to ‘test, test, test’ as much as possible, early on in the pandemic.
Now, health minister Lord Bethell said the Government was ‘rapidly scaling up’ testing.
“The Government is rapidly scaling up the national effort to boost testing capacity for coronavirus to protect the vulnerable, support our NHS, and ultimately save lives,” he said.
(Image: Bristol Live)
“This new service will help end the uncertainty of whether NHS and social care staff and other key workers need to stay at home, meaning those who test negative will be able to return to work.
“This is a national effort and we are proud to be working with a number of partners to turn this ambition into a reality and roll out additional capacity to where it is needed,” he added.
The network of testing sites including the new one at Bristol Airport will provide thousands more PCR swab tests – which are used to identify if you currently have the virus – for critical key workers, starting with NHS front line staff.
This means those who test negative for coronavirus can return to work as soon as possible, and those who test positive are able to recover.
The national co-ordinator for the UK’s coronavirus testing strategy, Professor John Newton, said it was a ‘brilliant example’ of industries and businesses turning over their resources to creating the capacity for mass testing.
“New testing sites such as this one are a key pillar of our 5-pillar plan to scale up testing, and are critical in supporting NHS staff and other frontline workers who are isolating at home to return safely to work if the test is negative,” he said.
“This is a brilliant example of industries and businesses turning their resources to creating and rolling out mass testing at scale, which will help to deliver on our aim of carrying out 100,000 tests a day across the UK by the end of the month,” he added.
That 100,000 tests a day figure was quoted as a target to be reached by the end of the month, by health secretary Matt Hancock at the start of April.
On Sunday, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the Government was still ‘confident’ it could be reached, despite so far only 22,000 tests being carried out on Saturday, for example.
Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he viewed the target as impossible. “I cannot see that being achieved,” he said. “It was always designed to be a headline grabber rather than anything else.”
The testing centre at Bristol Airport is being operated in partnership with G4S and Boots, and is offering assisted and self-administered tests.
Those tested will receive their results within a few days.
Bristol Airport has seen the airport almost empty during the coronavirus lockdown, with just a handful of flights each day, compared with the scores of planes taking off and landing and hundreds of thousands of passengers going through the terminal each month.
The car park is empty, and the airport’s chief executive, Dave Lees, said he was ‘very proud’ to be involved with the project to get more key careworkers tested.
“I am very proud that Bristol Airport is able to play a small but extremely important role in supporting the government’s target to test more and more frontline NHS and keyworkers by making available our staff car park and facilities to become a large scale drive-through testing station,” he said.
“We have been in constant contact with the government to play our part in the Covid-19 response plan including facilitating repatriation, essential flying, military and medical flights and all vital air links necessary at this time,” he added.
“I would like to say an enormous thank you to all the teams involved at Bristol Airport and within the Department for Health and Social Care, who have mobilised really quickly to make this testing station a reality.
“Covid-19 has impacted all families across the UK and we are indebted to all NHS, carers and all keyworkers helping to keep everyone safe during these unprecedented times,” he added.