Last week, Hampshire County Council announced that plans had been put forward to open a rapid testing centre in Andover, as one of many across the county.

The sites are designed to help identify cases of the virus which don’t have any symptoms, but can still be transmitted to others and exacerbate the pandemic.

Ahead of its opening tomorrow, the Advertiser explains what the new site means for you.

What is mass testing?

Mass testing, also known as surge testing, is a method of giving significant proportions of the population a test for Covid-19 to understand the spread of the virus better. Mass testing is given to everyone, not just those with symptoms, to ensure that cases of the virus which are asymptomatic – have no symptoms – can be picked up. Up to 40 per cent of Covid cases may have no symptoms, according to research by Imperial College London, meaning a significant amount of people may be passing on the virus without knowing it.

Mass testing has also been used to identify the spread of variants of the virus. So far, testing for these variants has been localised to areas where regular Covid testing has picked them up, such as Bramley near Basingstoke, where the South African variant of the virus was identified earlier this month. Testing will help better understand how these variants are spreading, and where, so that they can be better combatted.

Where is Andover’s rapid test centre?

Andover’s rapid test centre will open at Picket Twenty Sports Ground tomorrow (Tuesday, February 23), following government approval today. It aims to identify asymptomatic residents in Andover and the surrounding area, and will offer rapid lateral flow tests primarily to residents who have to leave home for work, but aren’t covered by workplace testing, like medical or care staff would be.

Childminders, transport workers and builders are expected to be included in the plans.

When will it be open?

The centre opens on February 23, and will be open for six weeks.

What will happen at the centre?

Before coming to the centre, participants are asked not to eat anything 30 minutes before their booking window.

Once they arrive, they will swab their own nose and throat with the guidance of a trained member of staff, and the swab will be analysed.

The lateral flow test identifies antigens, which are proteins which are specific to a certain organism and cause an immune response from the body. In this case, the test identifies Covid-19 antigens. In the lateral flow test, any Covid antigens are bound to by enzymes, proteins that catalyse reactions, which cause a colour change, similar to how a pregnancy test works.

In this case, the swab is dipped into an extraction solution, and then placed onto the lateral flow testing device. 30 minutes after the sample is applied, a colour change will occur. If it occurs at the control end, then the person does not have the virus, or if it occurs at the test end, then Covid is confirmed.

The results of the test will then be confirmed via text message, with the recipient having to self-isolate if required.

How do I book an appointment?

You can book an appointment through the Hampshire County Council rapid testing website:

Each resident will be able to book two tests per week between three and five days after their first test throughout the six-week programme.

What have the councils said?

Leader of Test Valley Borough Council, councillor Phil North, said: “Getting this site ready as a community testing facility has been no mean feat and I am really pleased that we have been instrumental in bringing this forward. Although it would have been ideal to get this in place prior to now it’s inevitable that these things take time to be approved from the centre, so I cannot thank the staff at Test Valley Borough Council and Hampshire County Council enough for the huge amount of work they have undertaken to turn this around as quickly as possible to get the site ready to open its doors next week.

“Effective testing and, of course, the phenomenal vaccination programme, offer light at the end of the tunnel, and we will do everything we can to support our NHS and public health colleagues to deliver those. With The Lights theatre in Andover and Crosfield Hall in Romsey operating as successful vaccine sites, and the recent opening of the testing site at Shepherds Spring Lane car park, we have been keen to play our part in keeping people safe and hopefully bringing this pandemic to an end.”

The county council’s executive member for public health, Councillor Judith Grajewski, said: “This is a hugely positive and important development in our response to the pandemic and our continued efforts to protect the health of residents. Around one in three people with Covid-19 display no symptoms and could be spreading the virus without knowing. Community testing will help prevent transmission and break chains of infection, by identifying more cases quickly and ensuring that people are supported to self-isolate. I would urge everyone who has to leave home for work to come forward for regular testing to protect themselves, their loved ones and our communities.”

She added: “I would like to reassure anyone who is visiting these sites to access the usual services that stringent infection control measures are in place. The layout at each site has been carefully designed to ensure people can move around them safely to prevent any possible spread of the virus. Furthermore, social distancing will be maintained throughout the testing process and trained staff will be in attendance on site, to guide people through the testing process and ensure that tests are completed safely and effectively.”