UK's first mass COVID testing program underway in Liverpool

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Jon Super

A member of the public swabs herself on the first day of the pilot scheme of mass testing in Liverpool, Friday Nov. 6, 2020. Liverpool is the pilot project for possible weekly testing of the entire population, covering up to 10 million people across England a day. ( AP Photo/Jon Super)

LIVERPOOL – Hundreds of people were tested for the coronavirus in the English city of Liverpool as Britain's first mass coronavirus testing program got underway Friday, a long-awaited development that has been touted as a potential game-changer in the U.K.'s battle against the virus.

Long lines of residents formed outside the city's six new test centers, which opened at midday and are set to stay in place for a couple of weeks.

The centers located at the Exhibition Centre Liverpool and at local sports facilities are providing lateral flow — or swab — tests with a turnaround time of under an hour for the estimated half-million people who live and work in Liverpool the city and do not have COVID-19 symptoms. About 2,000 military personnel have been deployed to help run the program that has the capacity to test thousands of people every day.

Moira Garwood, 80, has been diligently following public health rules since the British government first imposed restrictions in March. Even so, she was keen to find out that she didn't have the virus and that she was ready to go again in a couple of weeks.

“I’m being good. I’m not going out. I shielded for the six months, and I’m doing this now and I still want to make sure,” said Garwood, who was one of the first in line for the rapid test at Liverpool Tennis Centre.

The British government earlier this week picked Liverpool to host the pilot testing program because the city is one of the worst-affected parts of the country during the pandemic's current second wave in Europe. With new confirmed cases and deaths on the rise, England on Thursday entered a four-week lockdown until at least Dec. 2.

“I think it’s logistically one of the biggest things that’s been undertaken for mass testing ever, certainly in the U.K. and possibly in Europe," Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said.

The hope is that mass — and regular — testing will provide a way out of Europe's deadliest outbreak, which has killed nearly 48,500 people across the U.K. since the start of the pandemic.