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A hospital for 4,000 next week: London’s ExCel centre is converted by military

Vital: London’s ExCel centre will become a huge hospital PICTURE: REX

A MAKESHIFT field hospital for 4,000 patients will open next week after the UK’s coronavirus death toll soared by 87 in a day from 335 to 422.

The Army will help convert the ExCel centre in London’s Docklands to help cope with the crisis.

The giant exhibition venue will become the Nightingale Hospital, said health secretary Matt Hancock, who also revealed plans to recruit 250,000 volunteers to bolster the NHS.

‘The hospital will have two wards — each comprising of 2,000 people — and with the help of the military and the NHS staff we will ensure we have the capacity we need,’ he said.

‘But no matter how big we grow the NHS, unless we slow the spread of this virus the numbers will continue to rise.’

Well drilled: Soldiers deliver medical masks to St Thomas’ Hospital in London PICTURE: GETTY

The overnight increase in the death toll was the biggest so far as the total number of people who have tested positive reached 8,077.

Mr Hancock said government advice was now ‘crystal clear’ and anyone found breaking the lockdown put in place to curtail infection would face on-the-spot fines.

‘These measures are not advice, they are rules,’ he added. ‘We are engaged in a great national effort to beat this virus, everybody now has it in their power to save lives and protect the NHS. Home is now the front line.’

Troops joined the battle to beat the virus yesterday — by delivering badly needed masks to doctors and nurses working to save lives in packed wards.

Military vehicles rumbled across a near-empty Westminster Bridge after dispatching the supplies to London’s St Thomas’ Hospital.

The Army’s 101 Logistics Brigade was pressed into service after warnings that doctors felt like ‘lambs to the slaughter’ because of a lack of protective gear.

The military will be called on to bring more equipment, including masks, safety glasses and suits to other hospitals across the country.

It is thought up to 460 personnel will be mobilised over the coming days — up from a previous estimate of 50.

Dozens of military planners are being transferred to distribution centres across Britain to co-ordinate the efforts, with a controlling base in Liverpool.

Heavy duty: An Army truck brings supplies to St Thomas’ as part of national effort PICTURE: PA

A Ministry of Defence source said: ‘There is a massive hole in the capability to do this. The NHS haven’t got the ability to co-ordinate it so we are sending more personnel. We are talking about huge amounts of kit. They just don’t have the numbers — it is about getting skilled planners to help logistics.’

A single NHS hospital body — London North West University Healthcare Trust — reported 21 of the latest virus deaths as it battles the growing emergency.

And defence secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC the military was seeking out more extra locations to treat patients as hospitals fill up. It echoes the response in China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak began. A hospital there was built from scratch in ten days.

Mr Hancock said 2,660 former doctors and 6,147 ex-nurses had answered a call to return to work as he revealed more than 24,000 final year medical students were to be pushed onto the front line. He said he also wanted to ‘call up’ 250,000 ordinary people who are in good health.

They will help the estimated 1.5million vulnerable people most at risk from the virus, by bringing them medicine and food and transporting them to and from hospital appointments.

The idea was praised by psychologist Prof Stephen Reicher, of St Andrew’s university. ‘When people are brought together, they constitute the best resource we have,’ he said.

Stock markets worldwide soared as investors took heart at efforts to tackle the pandemic. The FTSE-100 was up 9.1 per cent, its second biggest rise ever.

To ask about becoming a volunteer see the NHS England website.

TESTING NHS staff for the virus is now one of the ‘biggest issues that needs resolution’, a health boss has said. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said hospital trust bosses were reporting that workers going off with symptoms of the virus is affecting the ‘vital’ front line. He tweeted: ‘Trusts are losing a lot of staff due to numbers in vulnerable groups, eg pregnancy and over 70, and those with household cases having to self-isolate.’ Testing would make a ‘significant difference’, he said.