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Mass testing programme to start in coronavirus hotspot

Written by on 18 November 2020

A mass coronavirus testing programme starts this weekend in a town which had last week’s highest UK rate of new cases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged people living or working in Merthyr Tydfil to “play their part” in bringing the pandemic under control by participating in Wales’ first mass test pilot, whether they have symptoms or not.

Volunteers in the south Wales town will be given a rapid, or lateral flow, COVID-19 test, which provides results in 20 to 30 minutes.

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Anyone testing positive will then have a traditional swab test and be asked to return home to self-isolate.

Mr Hancock said the pilot, which follows one already in place in Liverpool, 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.

“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.”

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Wales’ health minister Vaughan Gething said: “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.”

Wales' first mass testing pilot is to start in the town after it recorded the highest number of new cases in the UK last week
Volunteers will be given a rapid test and anyone testing positive will then have a swab test and be asked to self-isolate

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The leader of Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council, Kevin O’Neill, said mass testing in Liverpool showed up 700 people who unknowingly had the virus, cases that “would not have been detected otherwise”.

The testing programme will launch at the town’s Rhydycar leisure centre on Saturday with more sites due to open through Merthyr Tydfil County Borough throughout November.

The pilot would be supported by 165 military personnel, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart said.

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 12 November – the equivalent of 339.8 cases per 100,000 people.

At Wednesday’s Welsh government press briefing, the chief executive of NHS Wales said it was important that people in Merthyr stick to COVID-19 rules.

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Dr Andrew Goodall said: “Testing is only one part of this, that allows a diagnosis and a statement that somebody has the virus.

“What has to follow is that people then comply with the guidance and rules that apply.”