The U.K. will next week begin testing drones to deliver medical supplies and equipment to frontline health workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.
In a press conference on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that he had given the green light to begin an £8 million ($9.9 million) testing initiative next week.
The drone testing program was initially launched as part of a £28 million future transport initiative in Southampton and Portsmouth.
"Of course, now we have an urgent need, so we are making use of that testing program as part of our response to Covid-19," Shapps said.
"As a result, I have fast tracked trials to begin next week to carry medical supplies and equipment to St. Mary's Hospital, near Newport on the Isle of Wight."
Nationwide lockdown measures have been in place since March 23, and Foreign Minister Dominic Raab announced last Thursday that they would be extended for at least another three weeks. People have been told to stay at home except for essential shopping or to seek or provide medical care.
Shapps confirmed that in the last 24 hours, a further 684 people in the U.K. had died from the coronavirus, bringing the total to 19,506. Over 5,300 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total to 143,464, while 612,031 tests have so far been administered.
The transport minister also announced the launch of a new transport support unit dedicated to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Official figures published Friday showed U.K. retail sales falling by a record 5.1% in March as nationwide business closures came into force, highlighting the unprecedented economic toll of the outbreak.
A separate survey by polling firm GfK showed British consumer confidence had remained at its lowest since 2009, while Bank of England policymaker Jan Vlieghe warned on Thursday that Britain is potentially facing its worst economic shock in centuries.