LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND. Brigadier Joe Fossey at the mass testing centre at Anfield Stadium on 13 November 2020. Picture: Jennifer Bruce/Liverpool City Council.
Soldiers are used to moving at short notice. But this was something very different, writes Brigadier Joe Fossey OBE, Commander of the 8th Engineer Brigade, which has been supporting Liverpool’s Covid testing programme.
“Get ready to pioneer something new.” I got the call just before Halloween. Was that really only five weeks ago? How time flies. My boss mentioned Liverpool and a different approach to fighting Covid-19. I was excited at the idea of chasing down the virus and informing the UK’s blueprint.
I’d been involved in the Nightingale Hospitals and mobile testing units earlier in the year but lateral flow testing? I didn’t know what it was, how it worked or what it meant in terms of logistics.
I hesitate to admit this, but I’d also never visited Liverpool before. I think the closest I’d got was on the rugby fields around St Helens but that was a long time ago. I remember the camaraderie of the game; I also recall just how tough those St Helen’s players were. Bruises were involved and I left Merseyside with a shiner that day. But the city, its rich history, its amazing spirit and communities were all new to me.
Five weeks on and I can finally take a moment to reflect on what we’ve all achieved. The city’s warm welcome to me and my soldiers and the fantastic response to the testing pilot were remarkable. Even more so given this was achieved in the eye of national lockdown. This was the first project of its kind in the UK and, arguably, the first asymptomatic testing programme of this nature in the Western Hemisphere.
Even as a newcomer to the city, I now realise what a special moment this has been.
Most importantly, it’s working. We’ve found people who are carrying the virus. They had no symptoms and could easily have been passing this to their loved ones, or to you and me.
In just five weeks we now know so much more than we did at Halloween. Thanks to the people of Liverpool, the military, and the committed public servants from across the city we’re breaking the virus’ chains of transmission. We’re chasing it down. The trick now is to keep it out.
Liverpool navigated its way from Tier 3 into Tier 2, and we’re delivering testing in ways that gets to those hardest to reach, those who aren’t digitally connected, and reassuring those who may still worry about the test itself. We should all be very proud of what we’ve achieved together.
In the military, teamwork is the bedrock of our ability to respond quickly wherever and whenever we’re needed – at home and abroad. And this has been true of the city’s ‘Team of Teams’ too. Beneath a seemingly uneventful surface, a small cohort of Liverpool’s finest public servants continue to incorporate lightning-quick change and provide for the very best health outcomes. It’s a formidable team to be part of and a privilege to serve this most incredible city.
Just before I left home, I had this exchange with my eight-year-old son, Michael:
“Daddy, can I support Liverpool?”
“Because my friends at school do.”
“But we have no connection to Liverpool and live miles away. Why don’t you choose a team closer to home?”
Two weeks ago, he asked me again. It seems that Michael has made the perfect choice.