The first members of the public turned up at Rhydycar leisure centre on Saturday morning

Merthyr Tydfil has become the first area in Wales to begin mass coronavirus testing for people who do not have symptoms.

Everyone living or working there can now get a free test.

It follows a similar scheme in Liverpool,andmembers of the Armed Forces are again involved alongside local authorities.

The aim is to identify more positive cases and stop the disease spreading unchecked.

The area had the worst infection rate in the UK at the start of November

Merthyr Tydfil Rhydycar leisure centre opened for testing on Saturday and other sites will come online later this month.Advertisement

Lateral flow tests are being used – they give a result in around 20-30 minutes and do not need sending to a lab.

People who test positive will also get a traditional swab test – which has a higher degree of accuracy – and will be asked to return home to self-isolate.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has offered the rapid tests to every local authority in England, as well as the devolved nations.

Merthyr Tydfil had the worst infection rate in the UK at the start of November but the recent “firebreak” lockdown in Wales appears to have had a significant effect.

Cases in the area have fallen from around 770 per 100,000 people to below 260.

Blaenau Gwent is now Wales’s virus hotspot, with more than 350 cases per 100,000.

Overall case numbers in the country dropped over the 10 days leading up to Friday, and there are also signs of a slowdown in hospital admissions.

The country’s seven-day incidence rate is now around 160 cases per 100,000 people, according to First Minister Mark Drakeford.

Soldiers helped implement the Liverpool scheme

Despite the success, he said there was “no room” for further relaxation of the rules in Wales.

“We need everyone, every single one of us, to play our part to make sure that we continue to build on the progress of the firebreak, and to keep coronavirus cases falling,” Mr Drakeford said on Friday.

He added: “If we do all this together, then we can have a path through to Christmas and will be hoping to see family and friends over that festive period.”

Mr Drakeford has said talks on a UK-wide approach to Christmas rules are planned for next week.