Soldiers Carry Out COVID-19 Testing In Medway

The Armed Forces are giving coronavirus tests to asymptomatic workers in parts of Kent as part of a new targeted scheme set up by Medway Council.

It is the first time this approach has been used in the south east of the country and the military are employing methods developed after the mass testing pilot in Liverpool.

Medway has one of the highest infection rates in the country, currently 602.7 infected per 100,000 people compared to the national average of 148.7, and up 123.9 compared to last week.

The targeted testing scheme is an attempt to break chains of infection.

"We’re actually trying to identify where we’ve got the highest levels of disease at this point in time with a high rate of transmission and really get in there and try to stop that transmission,” James Williams, Director of Public Health, Medway, said.

A total of 145 military personnel have come together to form the Medway Resilience Unit (MRU) and set up three test sites.

The majority of them are from 35 Engineer Regiment.

"They’ve called Medway their home for many months because much of our training is conducted here in Brompton Barracks,” Lieutenant Colonel James Cackett, Commanding Officer, MRU, explained.

Members of 35 Engineer Regiment at Chattenden Community Centre carry out lateral flow test coronavirus 071220 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
Members of 35 Engineer Regiment are helping Medway Council with coronavirus testing.

He added: "It’s really good to be able to give something back to the community which supports us in so many other ways day in and day out."

Lt Col Cackett explained that personnel from 35 Engineer Regiment deployed on Wednesday last week and after conducting “intense training” they opened the three testing sites on Saturday.

The military are using lateral flow tests at Chattenden Community Centre.

People who need to take a test are asked to go to the centre of the hall after pre-registering for an appointment slot online, before swabbing themselves under the watchful eye of trained Armed Forces personnel.

"This way we’re actually interacting with the customers and explaining how best to do the test rather than just giving [them] a sheet of paper and trying to do it roughly," Lieutenant Steven Bishop from 35 Engineers, 17 Squadron, said.

The tests are processed on site and a barcode system allows the fast return of results. 

Within 60 minutes those who have been tested receive their results.

In three weeks, members of the MRU will pass on their understanding and skills to council workers so the local authority can take over.

Lateral flow test for coronavirus covid 071220 CREDIT BFBS.jpg
The military are using lateral flow tests, which give results within 60 minutes.

"It was successful in Liverpool when they carried out a similar exercise, so we want to see a turnaround in very few weeks,: Councillor Alan Jarrett, Leader of Medway Council, said.

British military personnel have been a key part of the UK's coronavirus response throughout 2020, with the Armed Forces now beginning to engage in a major role over the winter months.

Together with the NHS, personnel are on standby to roll out a COVID-19 mass vaccination programme.

About 13,500 personnel are being held at graduated readiness as part of the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) Winter Preparedness Package – on standby to assist local authorities with coronavirus needs over the winter period.

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