More than 15,000 tests in first three days of COVID-19 variant community surge testing drive
MORE than 15,000 people took COVID-19 tests in just three days, as part of a community surge testing programme in areas of Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
Mobile testing units (MTUs), including one at Wellington Road in St Paul's and one at the Bristol & Bath science Park in Emersons Green, launched on Sunday. By the end of Tuesday 7,600 tests had been carried out at the first three sites.
Three new sites opened this morning, including one at Shaftesbury Park in Frenchay Park Road, offering walk-in and drive-through testing.
Another 7,500 tests were picked up by residents from 'collect and drop' sites, including Fishponds Library, Junction 3 Library in Easton, Downend Library, Staple Hill Library, Emersons Green Library and the Shireway Community Centre in Yate, on their first day of opening on Tuesday.
The collect and drop service enables people to take home a kit, carry out a test on themselves and drop the swab back where they picked it up within 24 hours.
Extra collect and drop sites were opening at Westerleigh Village Hall, Shorthill Road, today and Hambrook Cricket Club in Moorend Road, Hambrook, tomorrow.
A two-week testing programme for people with no COVID-19 symptoms was launched on Sunday after a mutated variant of the virus was detected in certain areas of Bristol and South Gloucestershire.
People who have one of the three main symptoms of the virus – loss of taste and/or smell, a persistent cough or high temperature – should not use one of the new sites but instead call the NHS on 119 to arrange an appointment.
The testing is only being carried out in 24 specific postcode areas, including:
*BS16 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 and 9 postcodes, which include part of Fishponds, Stapleton, Frenchay, Downend, Mangotsfield, part of Staple Hill, Frenchay, Emersons Green, Lyde Green and Pucklechurch
*BS5 6 and 7 postcodes, which include Eastville and Speedwell.
*BS37 8, which includes homes between Shire Way and Rodford Way in Yate, plus Westerleigh and Wapley.
The other areas involved in the programme are in the centre, north and south of Bristol.
Health experts are trying to track a COVID-19 variant first found in Kent: by Tuesday evening 14 had been detected.
South Gloucestershire Council director of public health Sara Blackmore said: “The response to our community surge testing programme has been nothing short of incredible.
"We wish to thank all those residents who have taken the time to attend a testing site or Collect and Drop location, often in bitterly cold conditions.
"We continue to ask that people collecting a test from one of our Collect and Drop sites must register their test at home, and return the test to the site, as soon as possible.
"It has been a challenge to get these sites set up and working efficiently so we are grateful for everyone’s effort and patience.
“The tests will help Public Health scientists to better understand what is happening as the virus changes, and to make sure that the vaccines remain effective in protecting us all.
"Their work so far indicates that the growth rate of this form of the virus is relatively small, but we are only into day four of our two-week programme.
"We expect case numbers to increase but are confident that if everyone continues to follow public health guidance and national lockdown rules the number of new cases can be kept at a minimum.”
No appointment is required to get a test at the MTU sites or to collect a test kit from a 'collect and drop' site.
Plans to introduce a booking system were put on hold while extra testing sites are set up – organisers say appointments will be "considered again if needed".
Picture: Cars queuing at the testing unit site in Emersons Green on Sunday. Photo courtesy of South Gloucestershire Council