COVID-19: Grieving woman attends Merthyr Tydfil mass testing centre just a day after partner's death

November 21, 2020

There were around 80 Merthyr residents queuing outside the leisure centre at 8.30am, but it was an elderly lady sat inside who was most keen to speak to me.

Shirley Jones, 81, was among the first in line to be tested. She'd come despite her partner dying in hospital just yesterday.

His cancer operation was delayed due to COVID-19 and Shirley was unable to see him at the end.

"We couldn't say goodbye to him, couldn't tell him how much I loved him and the Lord would be with him because we're Christians and I wanted to give him comfort - I couldn't do it."

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Shirley wanted to speak to us to pass on a message to the rest of her community: "I've got to do this - because I think it's right that we all come up here and support the government and do this test for coronavirus and for the community.

"It's important we do it - I could have stayed in this morning, because I was grieving. But I know I had to do the right thing in coming up here for myself and for our community and I pray to God that everybody listening to me now please come up and here to have a test done.

"It's our duty to come up, and help the community. If we don't do it we're never going to get rid of this coronavirus, we've got to try to help my grandchildren, my children, my family," she added.

And with that, Shirley and her daughter Deborah were taken through to the sports hall turned testing centre.

Lateral flow tests are given, providing results in as little as 20 minutes.

Locals swab inside their mouths and nostrils before waiting in their car for news. If positive, they come back through a different entrance to take a second lab test.

The whole point in this is to identify cases in people with no symptoms, and it's no mistake Merthyr Tydfil has been chosen.

At one point the town had the highest COVID-19 rate in the UK, at around 770 cases per 100,000.

That's now fallen to below 260, but is still still far too high.

Ian Dinham has lived here for more than 40 years. We spoke as he handed back his swab: "It's vitally important and I'm hoping for a big turnout.

"I think Merthyr Council is right to do this to catch the asymptomatic people who are just walk around thinking it's fine. I could have this disease now. I could be walking around fine, but then someone vulnerable could get it and we end up in a terrible situation."

Leader of Merthyr Tydfil Council, Kevin O'Neill, is just as keen, and thinks plenty of people will come to one of 14 testing centres being rolled out.

He told me why the town has had such a high rate: "We're an industrial area, houses are smaller, communities are condensed, the spread goes quickly through our communities.

"Single places of contact like corner shops, local public houses, that's where it's gathered and assisted the spread of this virus."

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