By Tony Earnshaw LDRS
There was a quiet bustle inside Batley Library as redeployed Kirklees Council staff, bolstered by RAF personnel, readied the building to begin a rapid mass testing programme for Covid-19.
Outside a queue of more than 70 people snaked up New Way to the crest of the gentle hill.
Old, young and all ages in between, they stood patiently in line to await what some felt was the beginning of the end of the coronavirus.
At the head of the queue was senior Kirklees councillor Mus Khan, who heads the Cabinet portfolio for health and social care.
Within minutes of taking the test she was outside on the street thanking residents for turning out, apologising for their wait and extolling the virtues of the test.
“It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s painless,” she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), “and the results are returned within half an hour to two hours.
“My message is please come and get tested. Protect your family and your community. Follow the guidelines and the restrictions and get out of this mess as soon as possible.”
Kirklees has opened four walk-in testing centres as part of its campaign to reduce rates of infection.
Batley Library along with the Walsh Building in Dewsbury, the Hudawi Centre in Huddersfield and the Greenwood Centre in Ravensthorpe will operate from 8am to 8pm every day for the next few weeks.
Tests are available for anyone over the age of 11 who doesn’t have coronavirus symptoms. The council hopes that community testing will identify more cases and stop the spread of the virus.
The latest data shows that in the last seven days 165 per 100,000 people in Kirklees tested positive for Covid-19, compared to the previous week when it was 184 per 100,000 people.
This means that for the first time since May, Kirklees’ Covid-19 rates are below the national average with the borough now having the 83rd highest rates of infection in the country.
Towards the front of the queue in Batley were octogenarians Alan and Carol from Birstall. Like many others they stood patiently for an hour under grey December clouds that threatened rain.
But if the sky was dark, the horizon was bright, with several people viewing the commencement of rapid testing as the beginning of the end of the health emergency.
“We’re feeling hopeful,” said Carol, 84.
“We had the first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday and we go back on January 6 for the second dose.
“The set-up at the Al Hikmah Centre was fantastic.”
Husband Alan, 86, said: “We want to be sure that we’re not passing it on to anybody. We’ve got a big family – 23 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – and our big concern is keeping safe and for everyone to use common sense.”
The couple said they had not had anyone in their home since March and had not even visited local shops, preferring to arrange home deliveries of shopping.
Added Carol: “We have done as were told: keep your distance, wash your hands and wear a mask. That way we’ll get things moving. And we’ll enjoy our lives again when it’s all over.”
That Dunkirk spirit was echoed by Caroline, 57, from Batley. She turned up 15 minutes before the doors opened to stand in line. The LDRS walked with her as the queue edged forward.
“I’m here because I’d like to know whether I’m a carrier or whether I’ve got Covid,” she said.
“Having a testing centre right here in Batley is very encouraging because you don’t have to travel out of area.
“Hopefully it will encourage all the locals to come down and get tested. That way we will beat the virus and get us out of Tier 3.”
Brian and Gwen, also from Batley, had been in the queue for 40 minutes and were about 20 minutes from being tested.
Said Gwen, who was in her 70s: “I think testing should be compulsory. Everybody should have it. We all should do anything to help and get it over with.”
She and Brian, who was in his 80s, revealed how a relative returning from China had been tested for the virus a year ago. They said there were concerns about risk even then. Thankfully the relative survived.
“It’s been depressing for the family. Thankfully we have not lost anybody.
“But there are still too many people breaking the rules or making up rules to suit themselves. They should stop it.”
Looking on from the sidelines, Mus Khan marvelled at the resilience of local people.
“We are relying on the Kirklees community spirit, which has been evident.
“We have the military here to help us.
“We are trying to do everything we can to improve the infection rate in Kirklees, to open facilities and to get people back into work again – including seeing our hospitality industry open again so we can look to a more positive new year.
“The test is nothing to worry about at all. Again my message is: check where your nearest centre is and come and get tested.”