First Covid mass testing programme in Wales begins

21 November 2020, 08:17 | Updated: 21 November 2020, 11:02

The queue around the testing centre in Merthyr just before it opened
The queue around the testing centre in Merthyr just before it opened. Picture: LBC

By Megan White

The first coronavirus mass testing programme begins in Wales on Saturday, with all residents of Merthyr Tydfil Council area to be offered a Covid test whether they have symptoms or not.

All residents and workers will be offered repeat Covid testing from today to help find more positive cases and break the chains of transmission.

The first testing site will open at Merthyr Tydfil leisure centre, with 13 more sites set to open later this month.

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The programme will also see the use of Lateral Flow Devices in Wales for the first time.

Everyone who attends any of the asymptomatic test sites in Merthyr Tydfil will be given a test using the devices, which can turn around results within around 20-30 minutes.

If an individual tests positive via a LFD test, they will be asked to return home so they can self-isolate immediately.

The move will be delivered through a partnership between the Welsh Government, UK Government, Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board and the Ministry of Defence, with support from Armed Forces personnel.

The pilot follows a similar scheme in Liverpool, which saw hundreds of people flock to testing sites around the city.

The city's mayor Joe Anderson said the pilot could save lives, stop hospitals being overwhelmed and “get the city out of tier three restrictions”.

Speaking ahead of the pilot, Minister for Health and Social Services Vaughan Gething, said: "This is the first time we have rolled out mass testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic people in Wales.

"It will give us an even greater understanding of prevalence within the community and how many people have Covid.

“We have chosen Merthyr as it has a high prevalence and this mass testing will also help to slow down the spread of the virus in the area.

“The introduction of the rapid testing Lateral Flow Devices is a boost to our Test, Trace, Protect strategy and will speed up the process hugely. This is vital technology which I hope will play an important role in our fight against this deadly virus."

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council Leader Cllr Kevin O’Neill said: "We’ve all been alarmed by the high number of cases in Merthyr Tydfil and action is needed to respond as a community to protect our residents.

“Testing is important even if you don’t have symptoms. We learned this week that in Liverpool, where a Covid-19 testing trial has been carried out, 700 people were found to have unknowingly had the virus - these were cases that would not have been detected otherwise.

“The Council will be throwing its support behind this significant undertaking in the coming weeks and encouraging as many of our residents as possible to play their part in trying to bring this virus under some sort of control."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "By testing more people, including those without symptoms, we are able to find more positive cases of the virus and break chains of transmission.

"Building on the learnings from the first whole city testing pilot in Liverpool and using the latest rapid tests, this pilot in Merthyr will provide vital understanding of how we can further roll-out mass testing, as well as suppressing the virus and peace of mind for residents of Merthyr.

"I want to thank the Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council, Welsh Government and the armed forces for their work in making this pilot possible and bringing a test to everyone who needs one.

"I urge everyone in Merthyr to play their part in bringing this virus under control by getting a test, and by following restrictions in place."