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Hancock launches first of three mega-labs for Covid-19 testing

Image: Number 10 [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Government hopes automation will help the labs test tens of thousands of samples per day

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has launched a diagnostics laboratory in Milton Keynes on 9 April as the first of three testing hubs aimed at boosting Covid-19 response.

The government hopes the mega-labs it dubbed Lighthouse Labs will “dramatically” increase the number of coronavirus tests that can take place, to help reach the target of 100,000 test per day by the end of April.

The labs will use the PCR testing technology, which uses fluorescent light to detect the virus.

Each lab is expected to have the capacity to test tens of thousands of patient samples each day, prioritising NHS staff to help them return to work.

The testing samples will be coming from the 13 drive-through sites for NHS frontline staff and their families.

Two other labs are expected to open in the next two weeks, one in Alderley Park, in Cheshire, and one in Glasgow.

The Milton Keynes lab can currently test thousands of samples per day, with hopes that robotics and automation will allow that capacity to increase to “tens of thousands over the coming weeks”.

“A stream of new testing and diagnostic facilities are being brought online, and the opening of the first of our new Lighthouse Labs is an historic moment,” said Hancock. “Backed by Britain’s world-class scientists and industry partners, the opening of Milton Keynes lab today is a crucial step taken in tackling this virus.”

John Newton, national testing coordinator, said: “The Lighthouse Labs will be the largest network of diagnostic labs in British history. New testing sites are a key part of our 5-pillar plan to scale up testing. We will use the new mega-labs to continue our work to prioritise NHS staff and key workers currently in isolation, helping those without the virus safely return to work.”

The labs have been constructed through a partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care, Medicines Discovery Catapult, UK Biocentre and the University of Glasgow, and are supported by NHS and Public Health England, as well as pharma companies GSK and AstraZeneca.