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Kent's first mass Covid testing site planned for working men's club on Sheppey

The first mass coronavirus testing station in Kent will be in a working men's club.

Kent County Council has called up the Army in the fight against Covid-19 and is planning to commandeer Sheerness East Working Men’s Club on Sheppey.

Watch: The coronavirus testing station is due to be set up at Sheerness East Working Men's Club

Club manager Paula Smith confirmed KCC had visited the premises in Queenborough Road, Halfway, and is planning to start testing the public early next week. She said: “They told me they are hoping to test 800 people a day.”

Health chiefs had also been considering Thistle Hill community centre in Minster and Swale council’s leader Cllr Roger Truelove is pressing for a site in Sittingbourne too.

The news comes as Kent patients became some of the first in the world to be vaccinated against the virus.

GPs on Sheppey have begun handing out appointments to the most vulnerable including elderly people and care home staff with some booked in from next Tuesday.

Sheerness East Working Men's Club, Queenborough Road, Halfway, Sheppey
Sheerness East Working Men's Club, Queenborough Road, Halfway, Sheppey

Cllr Truelove said: “We have been pressing Public Health England for a mass testing station for a long time. This will be the first in Kent along with Thanet. We have also been pressing KCC for a second site in Sittingbourne but finding a venue is a logistical challenge.”

Medway council began to set up mass testing centres in Chattenden, Rainham and Chatham on Friday. A fourth was set to open today (Wednesday) at Rochester Cathedral.

The mass testing scheme aims to identify carriers of the virus who are not showing symptoms.

Anyone found to be infected is then asked to isolate to stop them transmitting the virus.

On the delayed start for Swale, Cllr Truelove said: “Medway isn’t Kent. As far as Kent is concerned we are the first priority. Unfortunately, these things take time.”

Soldiers at the Medway Resilience Unit
Soldiers at the Medway Resilience Unit

Medway and Swale have been swapping positions at the top of the infection rate chart in England, with both areas suffering infection rates that are four times the average for the country.

Andrew Scott-Clark, Kent’s director of public health, warned: “This is a huge undertaking. We need to have sites secured and made Covid-safe, resources recruited and trained to carry out the testing and a robust logistical plan to ensure the storage, transportation and availability of equipment, testing kits and IT infrastructure at each site in a short space of time.

“We are seeing community outbreaks across Kent. This is not just children at school or students at university, we are also seeing it in those at work.”

Patients at the new testing centre will be swabbed but unlike the existing test, which needs a laboratory and specialist equipment, the result will be known within 30 minutes.

Mr Scott-Clark added: "The mass testing will find people who may have the virus without symptoms and are potentially spreading it within their families and communities without knowing it. Our concern is the transmission to the groups most at risk of severe symptoms such as the elderly and those with long-term medial conditions."

Andrew Scott-Clark, Kent's director of public health
Andrew Scott-Clark, Kent's director of public health

He stressed infection rates will only drop if everyone practices social distancing, wears a mask in public and washes hands regularly. He added: “I appreciate everyone is tired of those messages but they are the only effective way to reduce transmission.”

KCC is recruiting staff to man the testing sites. The cost will come from central Government funds but KCC was unable to say how much.

The roll-out of the testing sites coincides with KCC preparing for the Brexit ‘transition’ on December 31.

To book a test, visit gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

Read more: All the latest news from Sittingbourne

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