THOUSANDS have queued for hours in Liverpool for rapid coronavirus tests before meeting with their families on Christmas Day.
Officials in the city, one of the few parts of the UK to offer testing to people without any symptoms, said recent days had seen "incredible demand" at walk-in centres.
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The tests take just 30 minutes to return a result, though reports said that waiting times today were as long as two hours at some sites.
As of 2pm, Liverpool City Council's website listed all 16 of the centres offering asymptotic tests as "very busy", indicating a wait of 45 minutes or more.
The council has also said that nearly 10,000 people were tested on Wednesday, almost triple the typical daily count of around 3,500.
This morning, queues were reported outside some centres in near-freezing temperatures from 6.30am.
A trial of the mass-testing programme was launched in Liverpool earlier this month, and has so far tested a quarter of the city's 500,000 residents.
The Liverpool Echo reports that a testing centre in Wirral has been forced to close off its queues because of high demand.
A statement from Wirral Council read: "Our sites have experienced incredible demand for symptom-free testing this week and we are now at a point where we are seeing many people from outside of the area coming to Wirral to access the testing centres.
"This is adding to what was already high demand and has resulted in us taking the difficult decision to close early today to ensure we can process the tests from people who have already been queuing for some time."
Only in October, Liverpool had some of the highest infections rates in the country, and the programme has been credited with helping to contain local outbreaks and keeping the area in Tier 2.
According to government estimates, the current infection in Liverpool is 149 people per 100,000, well below the UK-wide average of 320 per 100,000.
The city's director of public health, Matthew Ashton, said the build-up to Christmas had brought "huge demand" for testing, but added that a negative result should not be taken as an excuse to abandon social distancing and other preventive steps.
“We are reminding people that a negative test is not a green pass to ignore social distancing, hand hygiene, the wearing of face coverings and all the other measures that are in place to prevent the spread of the virus," he told the Guardian.
"We are also asking people not to have vulnerable relatives around on Christmas Day, to help keep them safe.
"Covid is a Christmas gift you don’t want to give or receive.”
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