LONDON - As Britain battles a surge in coronavirus infections with a nationwide monthlong lockdown, an ambitious mass testing pilot project has been launched in the northwestern city of Liverpool. Anyone who lives or works in the city and comes forward will be given a free test, whether they show symptoms of COVID-19 or not. Sabina Castelfranco has more from London.
There are long lines at one of the mass testing facilities set up at a tennis center in Liverpool in what is the British government’s latest effort to find a way to limit the spread of COVID-19, which has seen particularly high numbers in the country’s northwest in recent weeks.
Two thousand members of the British army have been deployed along with medical staff at various sites in the city, which include schools, offices and care homes, to help administer the tests and process the swabs as quickly as possible in this first citywide experiment.
Liverpool is one of the British cities most affected by the virus. It was the first city to be placed in Tier 3, Britain’s highest alert level for COVID-19, even before the country went into national lockdown this week.
The aim of the project is also to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed soon. Liverpool residents are concerned about the virus and appeared very supportive of the government’s plan for their city.
“You can be symptom-free and still positive and you’re going to go about your business and spread it aren’t you? So, the more people that do it, the more people that will hopefully stay in if they are found positive,” said one woman who lining up to be tested.
There is hope in Liverpool that if enough people come forward for testing, more infections will be detected, which will help to eventually bring down the numbers. Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson tested negative on the first day of and urged the population to take advantage of the free testing.
“It’s estimated that about 80% of people who have the virus are asymptomatic so, if we identify people who have the virus and would then self-isolate, it’s going to stop the spread of the virus. So, it’s crucial that we use this tool,” Anderson said.
The Liverpool pilot project will allow up to 500,000 people to be tested over 10 days. If successful, the government has said it plans to roll the pilot out in other cities and areas of the country. Britain has the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe.