Coronavirus: RAF Conducts Mass Testing In Merthyr Tydfil

More than 150 RAF personnel are in South Wales helping to conduct the UK's second military-supported mass testing programme for coronavirus.

The operation has been centred on the town of Merthyr Tydfil, which until recently had the highest rate of COVID-19 in the entire country.

As part of the testing programme, all 60,000 people who live in Merthyr town have been offered tests.

"I've been quite overwhelmed by the welcoming nature of everybody that we've spoken to," Squadron Leader Martin Morris from Joint Military Command Wales told Forces News.

New RAF recruits were trained at Merthyr's community football stadium by local police officers on how to deliver the testing.

They were later split into groups and deployed to testing centres, where they are training testers and offering lateral flow tests.

Merthyr Tydfil's leisure centre is the focus of the COVID-19 testing operation itself.

People who want to get tested do not need to book an appointment, and on the first day the facility opened, 977 people turned up, queuing right around the centre.

RAF serviceman in Merthyr Tydfil Wales handles a coronavirus covid test 261120 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
RAF personnel are in Merthyr Tydfil to deliver mass testing and training.

A total of 175 RAF servicemen and women are in Merthyr Tydfil for 10 days to help conduct coronavirus testing.

Many of them have just finished their basic training at RAF Halton and this is their first military deployment.

Twenty-two-year-old Danielle Keys joined the RAF in March as an Aerospace Operations specialist and is now on the frontline to deliver COVID testing in the Welsh town.

She told Forces News she is "a bit apprehensive for now", but she is convinced she will be "fine" and her family is "very proud" of what she is doing.

Nathan Steyert, 20, is a chef at RAF Coningsby but is currently deployed to South Wales to help with the mass testing scheme.

This is his first deployment on the "home ground" and he said he is "excited" and feels "proud" to be able to help.

In the side areas of the leisure centre hall, people take their coronavirus tests with a swab of the nose and mouth.

RAF personnel in the central section of the hall, the laboratory area, dip the swabs in a solution and apply them to a simple paper strip for a rapid turnaround lateral flow result, in a similar way to a pregnancy test.

Aircraftman Joel Danks is one of the coronavirus testers in Merthyr Tydfil.

He explained that the test takes around 30 minutes to produce a result.

Once the result is ready, it is recorded on a phone and the person who was tested receives a text message.

RAF personnel arrive in Merthyr Tydfil Wales to deliver mass testing and training 261120 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
RAF personnel will gradually hand over the job to the local council staff.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is asked to return and visit the other half of the sports hall, where they have another more accurate PCR test.

The leisure centre is one of seven test sites which have been set up in Merthyr and its surrounding area. 

Two miles away, in a community hall, another group of RAF personnel are conducting more tests. 

To date, the local council says more than 6,100 people have turned up at centres like these, with around 1% of those testing positive for COVID-19.

The number of cases has fallen dramatically, but Merthyr is still among the worst-hit areas in Wales.

Mass testing is expected to go on for a month and the military will gradually hand over the job to the local council staff.

Similar to what RAF personnel are doing in Wales, Army troops are in Liverpool delivering the training to NHS staff, city council workers and volunteers.

About 2,000 military personnel have been deployed to Liverpool since earlier this month to support a mass testing pilot in the city which has included the rollout of quick turnaround tests.

About 14,000 personnel are now being held at graduated readiness as part of the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) Winter Preparedness Package – on standby to assist local authorities with needs related to coronavirus over the winter period.

As part of the Winter Support Force, servicemen and women will soon help launch a major community testing programme for COVID-19 in England over the winter months.