A pilot scheme of mass coronavirus testing in Liverpool is underway.
About 2,000 military personnel have been deployed to the city to help deliver the programme, and are being housed at a local holiday park while they support city officials and NHS staff.
Residents began to arrive at Liverpool Tennis Centre, one of the six new testing facilities opening in the city, about 45 minutes before it opened at midday on Friday.
The facilities, also set up at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool and other council-run sports centres, will provide lateral flow tests, with a turnaround time of under an hour, for people who live and work in the city and do not have symptoms.
Anyone who does have symptoms can get a swab test at one of the existing mobile testing centres in the city, which can also be accessed by those without symptoms.
On Tuesday, Boris Johnson said the rapid tests could be “possibly decisive” in defeating the virus. He added that there were also better drugs and the prospect of a vaccine.
“Amid the uncertain gloom of November, I see light ahead and I’m absolutely certain that we will have better days before us,” he told ministers.
Veronica Atkinson, 71, was among those queuing outside the tennis centre in Wavertree before it opened.
She said she was a “bit apprehensive” about getting a test but wanted to know the result.
She said: “I want to be able to go for Christmas dinner.”
An 86-year-old man, who did not want to be named, said: “I’m retired and I live nearby so I thought I’d come down.
“The Test and Trace doesn’t seem to have worked so this seems to be the best system.”
On Thursday it was revealed that coronavirus infections went up 10,000 in week in England – but just 6 in 10 contacts were being reached through the government’s Test and Trace programme.
Some 59.9% of close contacts of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in England were reached through the system in the same week, the lowest weekly percentage since test and trace began.
But former director of the World Health Organization and member of Independent Sage - Anthony Costello -said the figures are worse than they first appear. He tweeted that of the newly-infected people with COVID, just 14% of contacts are asked to self-isolate – with no figures showing how many of those go along with isolating.
Liverpool’s director of public health Matt Ashton said there was capacity for 85 centres to be set up by the end of the pilot scheme, which is due to last for 10 days initially, with the prospect of it being extended.
He said getting the community involved was key to its success.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us to test out new testing strategies, new testing technology, in the city and help us exit national lockdown in a strong position,” he said.
“It’ll give us a really good understanding of the virus in the city, the levels of the virus and where it is.
“It allows us to target our resources properly but it also allows us to help people understand their personal status and then control the spread of the virus, break the chains of transmission.”
Ashton said there had been a “strong, positive reaction” to the scheme so far and there was capacity to test everyone who wanted to be tested twice during the pilot period.
He said there were “fantastic benefits” to the programme but it would be a learning curve.
“It is a huge logistical challenge so we have to have a sustainable option at the end of this as well,” he said.
“How do we have mass testing of our communities in the easiest way for everybody to be delivered and for our communities to engage with?
“This is not mandatory, this is for people to ask for and to get a test, so part of the pilot is understanding where that demand is and understanding how people respond to the pilot.”
Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said: “I think it’s logistically one of the biggest things that’s been undertaken for mass testing ever, certainly in the UK and possibly in Europe.
“So I’m really impressed, really grateful for everybody’s work and everybody’s efforts.”
He said he thought the trial would be a success and then hoped it would be rolled out across the country.
He added: “I’m positive that the Government will then change tack and start fighting the virus in a proactive way, mass testing continually to help us getting back to some normality.”
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