PLANS to open a military-backed mass coronavirus testing site in St Mary’s Market targeting asymptomatic people are gathering pace, it can be revealed.

As reported earlier this week, St Helens Borough Council have been looking at the indoor market as the central location for the use rapid lateral flow tests like those seen in the mass testing pilot in Liverpool.

The council has submitted their plans to the government, but it is still awaiting word whether it will receive the necessary support to run the operation.

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Council chiefs were instructed by the government last month to prepare for mass testing, following the launch of the pilot.

However, doubts were cast over whether the military would assist in any expansion of the pilot given the region has now moved out of Tier 3 and into Tier 2.

But it is understood city region authorities will be granted some military support in good faith for its efforts in helping drive down infection rates over the past two months.

And today, St Helens Borough Council has confirmed it is looking at several sites for symptom-free testing, including St Mary’s Indoor Market.

The council spokesman said: “St Helens Borough Council, together with its partners in the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority has sought approval from government for additional support in delivering symptom free lateral flow testing, which can provide results in as little as 30 minutes.

“We are still awaiting confirmation that our request for support to help us offer wider community testing has been accepted.

“We are working on our plans for community testing at pace and we are currently looking at a number of sites for testing for anyone who does not have symptoms, one of which is St Mary’s Indoor Market in St Helens town centre, along with other sites across the borough to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

“We are working in conjunction with Halton and St Helens Voluntary and Community Action, through #StHelensTogether to recruit volunteers who might want to do their bit to support our efforts to reduce the rates of infection in our borough by finding and isolating cases where people may not realise they have symptoms and spread it to others.

“Council staff will also be redeployed to support the delivery of the community testing. ”

Once operational, the testing stations will be operational up to July 2021 and open seven days a week, between 8am to 7pm.

It is understood the council is aiming for the operation to be up and running as soon as next week, but first it needs to secure an army of volunteers.

The council and Halton & St Helens Voluntary Community Action put a call out for volunteers on Thursday to support its new community testing stations.

Lateral flow tests can be processed on site without the need for laboratory equipment, with most generating results in within 30 minutes.

The council has said it plans to roll out more tests to targeted areas, such as workplaces and schools, alongside wider general community testing.

A number of mobile sites using the rapid lateral flow tests, as opposed to the gold standard PCR tests, are also being considered.

Further questions have been raised this week over the accuracy of the 30-minute tests, which are more effective at detecting people in their most infectious period.

Earlier this week Rochdale Borough Council ”strongly advised” care homes not to use the tests, saying it had ”serious concerns about the accuracy”.

Government guidelines on community testing acknowledges that the tests will not pick up everyone who has Covid-19.

In Liverpool, lateral flow tests picked up five out of ten of the cases PCR tests detected, and more than seven out of ten cases with higher viral loads, who are likely to be the most infectious.

St Helens Star: Previous coronavirus testing has had to be sent to laboratoriesPrevious coronavirus testing has had to be sent to laboratories

Despite the concerns, Public Health England and a recent study from Oxford University have concluded that the tests are accurate and sensitive enough to be used in the community.

Once they are available in St Helens, residents will simply receive a quick swab to the nose and mouth.

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The results will then be sent to them via text or email, in most cases within 30 minutes.

If someone tests positive they must isolate at home and will then be sent a home test kit to confirm the Covid-19 case.

Further information about symptom-free testing will be published on St Helens Borough Council’s social media channels.