A DRIVE-through coronavirus testing centre is to open at Preston College with a satellite station in East Lancashire to follow.

It will start being piloted over the weekend.

The facility, on a car park, is the 28th such drive-through centre set up as part of the government’s UK-wide drive to increase testing for thousands more critical workers.

The Preston site will provide PCR swab tests - used to identify if you currently have the virus - for critical key workers, starting with NHS frontline staff. This means those who test negative for coronavirus can return to work.

Professor Dominic Harrison, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s public health director, said: “This is very good news.

“I really welcome the establishment of this centre.

“This is the first new location for testing in the health and care sectors, blue light service staff and other workers in the front line.

“This expansion of testing is critical if we are to move successfully into the control phase of the Covid-19 epidemic.

“Preston is the ideal location because of its excellent road links to the rest of the county.

“But this is just the first such centre, there will be satellite stations including one in Pennine Lancashire.”

Alex Walker, director of performance at Blackburn with Darwen and East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is certainly one of the most challenging issues we have had to face, certainly in recent years.

“However, one of the most challenging things is the uncertainty of who may have the infection especially amongst our frontline key workers, and not knowing if and when they are safe to return to normal working life.

“This testing centre will help alleviate the strain on our local health partners and help us ensure we have the optimum staff working to reduce the burden of this disease.”

Dr Lis Smith, Preston College’s principal, said: “When our staff and learners temporarily moved to home and online working, we decided to offer whatever help we could to the NHS. We are proud to be able to provide the use of one of our car parks as a test centre at this crucial time. Whilst our contribution to the wider NHS efforts is relatively small, we feel it is important to help our community in any way that we can.”

Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “This new service will help end the uncertainty of whether NHS and social care staff need to stay at home meaning those who test negative will be able to return to work.”

The launch of the Preston centre flows from the government’s partnership with universities, research institutes and companies to begin rollout of the network of new lighthouse labs and testing sites across the UK, with 19 main testing sites and eight satellite stations run by NHS Trusts for their staff opened to date.