Mass Covid-19 testing scheme to be launched in Merthyr Tydfil

18 November 2020, 13:57

Merthyr Tydfil will be the first place in Wales to have a testing scheme
Merthyr Tydfil will be the first place in Wales to have a testing scheme. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Mass coronavirus testing will be launched in Merthyr Tydfil in Wales' first pilot of the scheme, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething has announced.

Rapid Covid-19 tests will be offered to residents and workers from Saturday in the town which this week had the highest rate of new cases in Wales.

On Wednesday, Mr Gething announced the move in a written statement to MSs in the Welsh Parliament, saying the mass testing pilot would "help find more positive cases and break the chains of transmission".

Mr Gething added: "I want to inform Members of our plans for Merthyr Tydfil borough to be the first whole area testing pilot in Wales. Everyone living or working in Merthyr Tydfil will be offered Covid-19 testing."

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"Our aims in delivering the area testing pilot are to: protect Merthyr and residents at highest risk; test the maximum number of inhabitants living in Merthyr Tydfil to identify the virus, wherever it is, and empower the local community to arrest and reduce the community spread in order to save lives and save livelihoods."

Mr Gething said the testing would also aim to "provide us with an even greater understanding of prevalence within the community and how many people are asymptomatic".

Merthyr Tydfil briefly had the highest Covid-19 rate in Wales
Merthyr Tydfil briefly had the highest Covid-19 rate in Wales. Picture: PA

Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people in Merthyr Tydfil to "play their part" in bringing coronavirus under control by taking part in the pilot.

On Wednesday, Mr Hancock said the pilot would provide "vital understanding" on how mass testing can be rolled out across the UK.

He 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."

The leader of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, 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."

The testing pilot would be rolled out with the help of the Welsh Government, UK Government, Merthyr County Borough Council, Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board and the Ministry of Defence, with logistical support from the Armed Forces.

All residents will be offered repeat testing even if they have no symptoms of the virus, "to help find more positive cases and break the chains of transmission" Mr Gething added.

The first site for asymptomatic testing will open at Merthyr Tydfil's Rhydycar leisure centre on Saturday, with more sites due to open throughout Merthyr's borough later in November.

Lateral flow tests will give results within 20 to 30 minutes, with people that test positive then given a traditional swab test and will be asked to return home so they can self-isolate immediately.

The testing pilot follows one in place in Liverpool.

Last week, Merthyr Tydfil briefly became the worst-hit area of the UK, with 741 cases per 100,000 people.

On Monday, the figure had dropped but the town still had the highest rate in Wales, with 205 new cases recorded in the seven days to November 12 - the equivalent of 339.8 cases per 100,000 people.