Essential workers and their families can book tests online from Friday, says UK health secretary

All essential workers in England, including members of their household, are now eligible for coronavirus tests, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.

Around 10 million key workers - as defined by the government - who need to book a test will be able to do so on the government's website from Friday.

Mr Hancock said “From Thursday, employers of essential workers will be able to get tests for staff from the government website.

He added: "From tomorrow, any essential workers who need a test will be able to book an appointment on the government website themselves, directly. This also applies to people in essential workers’ households who need a test. It’s all part of getting Britain back on her feet.”

The health secretary also said that the government will recruit 18,000 people to work on coronavirus contract tracing - tracing people who have been in contact with those infected by coronavirus, so that they can isolate. More than 3,000 of those will be clinicians, he said.

He said that the recruits would be trained over the coming weeks and that having a system of “test, track and trace” in place would make it easier for social distancing measures to be relaxed.

“Test, track and trace, done effectively, can help to suppress the transmission in a way that allows you then to have lesser rules,” Hancock added.

Addressing the UK government's "challenging" target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, Mr Hancock said capacity for carrying out tests had expanded to more than 50,000 a day. "Our ultimate goal is that everyone who could benefit from a test gets a test," he said.

48 mobile laboratories are planned to be up and running to help the testing effort by the end of the month with the support of the armed forces. There are four already operating as well as 28 drive-through testing centres.

The plan is for this to be extended to 48 by the end of April and for each testing centre to have a mobile lab attached to it.The government is also introducing home test kits.

Figures released by the Department for Health and Social Care on Thursday showed a further 616 people have died with the virus in UK hospitals, bringing the total number of deaths to 18,738. Meanwhile, Scotland is prioritising tests for NHS staff and is yet to announce any expansion of testing to key workers.

At the daily briefing First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also said the lifting of the coronavirus lockdown is likely to be phased in Scotland - with some measures remaining in place into next year, "or beyond".