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Second oldest cathedral in England opens as COVID-19 testing centre

Rochester Cathedral has joined Medway’s fight against COVID-19.

Medway’s historic cathedral could be the largest place of worship in the country to become a coronavirus testing centre.

Rochester Cathedral, the second oldest cathedral in England – founded in AD 604, has joined Medway’s fight against COVID-19 and become a symptom-free testing centre. 

Medway is the first place in the south-east to offer targeted community testing for those without symptoms. 

This new type of testing will help identify those who unknowingly have the virus. The symptom-free tests will help provide a more accurate picture of cases in Medway and will help prevent people from spreading it to their loved ones and people they work with. Medway’s symptom-free testing is being led by the Director of Public Health, with kits supplied by NHS Test and Trace.

Eligible critical workers and residents have been directly contacted

Medway Council has directly contacted the organisations of eligible critical workers, including the emergency services and schools, and has sent letters to residents who live in an area which currently has a high number of cases to encourage them to book a free test. Some residents may also have been contacted by text, from ‘NHS noreply’, with a link to book. 

This new type of testing is much speedier than current tests with results delivered within an hour of the test taking place. Members of the public do the quick swab test at the testing centres themselves and receive the results at home.  

Rochester Cathedral joins Medway’s list of targeted community testing centres, which are being run in partnership with the military – in Chattenden, Rainham and Chatham. The cathedral’s testing centre is in the crypt ,which is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral. With a fourth site opening, Medway Council is contacting more residents to encourage them to book a symptom-free test. 

‘Everyone has a part to play’

Director of Public Health at Medway Council, James Williams, said: “These targeted community testing centres are a vital tool in Medway’s fight against coronavirus, especially at a time when Medway has the highest rate in the country. Thousands of eligible people have already taken a symptom-free test and a number of people who took this new test, had the virus and tested positive. They will now be self-isolating, preventing them from unknowingly spreading the virus to loved ones and people they work with. 

“Everyone has a part to play in slowing the spread of the virus– continue following government guidance and if you’re contacted to take a take a symptom-free test, please book at one of our four targeted community testing centres.”

‘Act now and book a test if you’re eligible’

Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “Medway is the first area in the south-east to launch targeted community testing centres for people without symptoms. Rochester Cathedral has become the fourth site in Medway, giving our residents and critical workers more options to book a symptom-free test. With a fourth site opening, we are now able to extend the pilot to more residents – if you receive a letter from Medway Council please do book your free test – it could help save lives.

“Thank you to Rochester Cathedral and to the military for your help in making this all possible. I would continue to encourage residents to act now and book a test if you’re eligible.”

Rochester Cathedral – spiritual home of Royal Engineers

Dean of Rochester, The Very Rev’d Dr Philip Hesketh, said: “In a time of emergency, we are glad we can be of service to our community remembering Jesus’ words that he came not to be served but to serve and that ‘people might have life in all its fullness’.

“We are glad to be working alongside the Royal Engineers, as well as the Armed Forces, as Rochester Cathedral is their spiritual home and we have had a long and close relationship with them over many centuries.”

‘Hugely proud to be working at cathedral’

Lieutenant Ben Williams, Troop Commander at the Rochester Cathedral asymptomatic testing site, said: “We feel hugely proud to be working out of the Cathedral. There’s a big connection between the Royal Engineers and the Cathedral; our memorial plaque is in the Nave and the Cathedral’s builder Bishop Gundulph was the first Military Engineer, so to be here nearly a millennium later in the fight against Coronavirus is a real privilege. 

“Medway is home turf for the Royal Engineers so it’s only right that we are back here supporting the council response to COVID-19. Quite a few of our team are local too, myself included, and it’s not often in the military that you have an opportunity to serve the community that raised you.”