Armed Forces Hand Over Operations Of England's Mobile Testing Units

Civilian contractors will take over the running of the pop-up services.

Armed Forces personnel have carried out their final coronavirus tests at mobile sites in England.

The units, which the military has helped design, set up and run during recent months, will now be run by civilian contractors, who have been trained by servicemen and women.

The Armed Forces have conducted more than 700,000 tests at UK sites since April.

More than 2,700 service personnel have run 218 pop-up units since the programme began.

In Scotland and Wales, the military are expected to continue to run the mobile units until the end of the summer, but their job is done in England – at least for the time being.

Forces News visited a unit in the London borough of Camden, where people queued in their vehicles to check if they have the virus that continues to sweep the globe.

It is now a well-rehearsed system - visitors are given a test kit when they arrive, passed through their car window. 

They park, stay in the vehicle and carry out the swab themselves.

As they leave the site, they hand back the test kit, which is electronically logged using a mobile phone, so a laboratory can send them their results.

Soldiers from 1st Battalion Welsh Guards have been operating the mobile testing unit in Camden for the last two weeks.

On the final day of military testing, the soldiers took a more hands off approach, as they trained civilian contractors.

Lance Sergeant Lee Skates, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, told Forces News: "[They are] very pleased to see us here.

"I think it just gives them that sense of, I don’t know, security like the Government is actually doing something about it.

"We have had a few people come in and a bit scared, I think it’s just because we’re in uniform but you know everyone we all get on alright."

On what was the final day of military testing in England, soldiers took a more hands-off approach, as they trained civilian contractors.

"They did exactly what we did," Guardsman Peter Turner, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, said.

"They watched us for about two days.

"Then for another two days we kind of split the teams down – we had one civilian, one member of the military working with us.

"Now today, what you’ll see is mainly the civilian members that are taking the lead, we’re then shadowing them, so just making sure they go through everything they need to, go through the right processes.

"Then just kind of giving them a buffer, so if you get members of the public who’ve come up with a scenario that we personally haven’t faced, we come in then, help them to assess the situation and then deal with it as appropriately as possible."

The mobile testing unit in Camden, London.

The first of the military-designed mobile testing units were deployed in April.

The relatively straightforward combination of tents, tables and mobile phones has been replicated time and again.

Initially, personnel took the swabs, now visitors are asked to do that themselves.

Regulars and reserves across all three services have taken part.

The demand for testing remains high - even in times when infection rates are lower, testing is essential to help keep on top of the virus.

Now the capacity has been developed, the Armed Forces will end their involvement with the day-to-day running in England.

Lieutenant Joe Wilkinson, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, told Forces News: "As soon as we got ourselves into a rhythm and got a feeling really for how testing works, it’s allowed us to, you know, hand over the same sort of rhythm to civilian organisations taking over from us.

"That’s really, you know, what I think what they needed from us was an understanding of how we go about approaching an issue like this and then sort of creating a pattern in which to follow and work."