‘Like a scene out of dystopian fiction’: Inside the Amex’s Covid-19 testing centre

Like a scene out of dystopian fiction, masked people direct drivers through the coronavirus testing centre at the Amex Community Stadium.

Read the instructions on the signs. Do not open your windows.

As a public-service journalist, I am a key worker so I could book myself in for a test on Wednesday morning to see if my sore throat, headache, earache and cough are anything more than a spring cold.

I had a weak signal on my phone, which caused issues to start with as I had to wait for my appointment code webpage to load up to confirm my place.

After a steward asked me “Have you got your data on love?” and I resisted the urge to give him the hard stare usually on offer as these are hard times and everyone is doing the best they can.

I ended up texting the information through.

He had a print out with the details, so it seems this is not a one-off situation on the edge of Falmer.

Queues seem long at the Covid-19 test centre because cars are bigger than people.

That said, it took 45 minutes to reach the testers and receive a kit due to the large number of cars waiting their turn.

The very young test kit distributors, I assume medical students or recent grads, ask you to call a mobile number and give you instructions over the phone.

They are masked, gloved and wearing plastic aprons. Not the hazard suits of Outbreak or Contagion, but still sobering.

I opened my car window was just enough to put the test through once they were satisfied I knew what to do.

They ask if you have hand sanitiser and tissue as they want you to cleanse before putting the test in the biohazard bag.

As I haven’t seen sanitiser in the shops since February, I don’t have any.

At home, we’re on a regular hand-washing schedule, and I’m running low on hand cream.

You don’t complete the test in front of these people, but drive on, park up and deal with the swab once a steward is certain you’re okay.

It is not pleasant. Rub the swab around the back of your throat then shove it up your nose.

Once this is complete, it took another 45 minutes in the car to queue up and hand the test over.

When I say hand over, I mean push it through a crack in the car window into a plastic box.

I felt sorry for the testers and stewards waiting in the rain as one by one the cars pass by.

Pollution levels must be pretty bad due to all the idling vehicles.

But it was efficient as it could be in a drive-through situation.

These always strike me as time-consuming and inefficient anyway so I don’t use them even when my husband and child desire burgers and fries.

It is frustrating for people who don’t have cars because it is not possible to test and maintain social distance. Different ways of accessing testing is arranged by GPs for these patients.

The test results might be back in two days, or five. I just hope I did it right.

(By Sarah Booker-Lewis – Local Democracy Reporter)

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