Wolverhampton has been hailed as a model of best practice by the Government for the way it has rolled out Covid-19 rapid testing in the community.
Rapid, regular testing for people without symptoms is now being offered by more than 70% of local councils in England through targeted community programmes – with Wolverhampton one of the first places in the country to launch it late last year.
John Denley, Wolverhampton's Director of Public Health, said: "One in three people with Covid-19 don't have any symptoms so don't realise they have it –but they could still be infectious.
"We realised very early on how important it would be to enable people without symptoms to get tested so we could find hidden cases and those individuals could then self-isolate, preventing the spread of the virus to others. This has helped infection rates in the city drop significantly.”
He added: “We've worked closely with faith and community groups to roll out testing into local communities, and are delighted that we've been able to set up testing sites across the city which have been well supported by residents.
“I want to take this opportunity to say a thank you to the staff and volunteers who are working so hard with us to help protect people through rapid testing.”
Volunteer groups have been supported by the council, providing training and support to empower local communities to run their own sites. Testing sites have been established at the Jamia Masjid Bilal mosque, St Joseph's Church and The Hub at Ashmore Park following a successful pilot at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, Sedgley Street.
And by the start of this month, around 47,000 tests had been completed, with just over 1,800 positive cases being found. These individuals have self-isolated, preventing the spread of the virus to others.
James Clarke, Chairman of Ashmore Park Community Association, said: "Being a local organisation, made up of local people, we have seen the disruption and devastation the pandemic has caused on our doorstep and we were keen to do anything we could to help.
"Sadly, our building has been closed since last March in order to protect both our visitors and volunteers, so when we were approached by the council to use The Hub as a rapid testing site we didn't hesitate.
"Ashmore Park has seen one of the highest infection rates in the country and rapid testing is one way of breaking the chain of transmission and protecting our loved ones."
Fr. Craig Fullard, Parish Priest of St John Henry Newman Cluster of Catholic Churches, which is hosting testing at St Joseph's Church in East Park, said: "It has been great that members of our faith community, alongside other faith communities, has been able to play a positive part in the journey of our city overcoming this pandemic.
"As a group of trained volunteers, we have been able to not only assist our local community but also, because we are volunteers and not paid staff, been able to raise over £6,000 for Compton Care which is close to so many people’s lives.
"While the infection rate in Wolverhampton is declining, we are not out of the storm yet, and I would encourage everyone without symptoms to undertake regular rapid testing so that the rainbow will appear over our city soon."
Mohammad Shafiq, chairman of the Jamia Masjid Bilal, added: "During the coronavirus pandemic we have been able to support the local community within Wolverhampton through the test centre here at the mosque.
“The many volunteers that have dedicated their time and efforts have helped the community to feel welcomed, comfortable and safe, and we are seeing members of the community and local businesses returning for weekly tests.
“It is important that we continue to take measures such as testing and vaccinations to ensure that we can be together again soon with our loved ones, family and friends.”
The gurdwara pilot, led by the local community and supported by the council and the Department for Health and Social Care, was hailed as best practice by the Government.
It involved local leaders from the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, Sedgley Street, the Catholic Church, Church of England, Oasis of Love International Church and local Muslim faith leaders, with one volunteer saying: "The asymptomatic testing centre had brought the community together and enabled people to support the fight against Covid-19".
The council’s broad approach to testing has seen rapid tests being made available in the heart of communities, including at the Civic Centre, Pendeford Library and Bilston Community Centre. Priority slots have been made available for ‘critical workers’ to support local business. Testing has also been taking place at schools and the city also has a ‘blue light’ hub offering testing for frontline police and fire service staff.
For full details of rapid testing in Wolverhampton, please visit www.wolverhampton.gov.uk/coronavirus-testing.
Please note, rapid testing is not available to people who have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, or to anyone with symptoms of Covid-19, which include a fever, a new continuous cough or a change to the sense of taste or smell. They should immediately self-isolate and book a PCR test by visiting www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test or calling 119.
The latest information and guidance around coronavirus is available at www.gov.uk/coronavirus and on the council’s own coronavirus pages at www.wolverhampton.gov.uk/coronavirus. Information about the vaccine can be found at www.wolverhampton.gov.uk/covidvaccine. Further details of the lockdown restrictions currently in place, and the answers to frequently asked questions, are available at www.wolverhampton.gov.uk/covidalert.