THE North-East town of Redcar could be a pilot area for a mass Covid-19 testing scheme – with the army being called upon to carry out tests, according to a local council leader.

Councillor Mary Lanigan, the leader of Redcar and Cleveland Council, said: “Because our numbers are starting to rise we are going to test every single person in Redcar.

“We have got the army coming in to do that.

“We are awaiting the details and Redcar and Cleveland [Council] and public health will be having a say.

“All I can say is that I have been informed that the army is coming in and they are targeting the whole of Redcar.”

She said the town was one of three pilot areas chosen, although a council spokesman could not confirm this when approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

It is understood that while discussions have been had over a possible mass testing scheme for Redcar, it is one of several areas across the country under consideration.

Any such testing would also not be compulsory.

The spokesman said: “We are one of a number of areas exploring possible testing options with the Government.”

There was also no confirmation of Cllr Lanigan’s statement from the Department of Health and Social Care, nor from the local MP Jacob Young, who have been contacted for comment.

Cllr Lanigan made her bombshell announcement at a meeting of the council’s resources and scrutiny committee, which had been discussing the governance statement the local authority is required to publish and the risks posed by the coronavirus.

Her comments quickly began to be shared on social media by councillors, who also received an e-mail from Cllr Lanigan – seen by the Local Democract Reporting Service – which stated: “We have been contacted for a pilot scheme to test a town for Covid-19.

“Redcar has been deemed suitable as the first to pilot.

“Details are sketchy, but I intend to call a meeting of leaders and deputy leaders of the groups along with the independents.”

Posting on Twitter, Councillor Carl Quartermain, who leads the Labour group on the council, said he had received many messages from local residents wanting answers to Cllr Lanigan’s “highly speculative announcement”.

He also said it had caused “unnecessary rumour and anxiety”.

Tees Valley council leaders met yesterday afternoon to discuss the latest coronavirus developments, although the meeting is thought to have been a regular meeting, not involving Government ministers or officials.

Officials are continuing to monitor the data in relation to coronavirus cases in the region, which for the moment remains in the ‘tier two’ or high level of restrictions.

It is still hoped that a flattening out of the numbers could see the Tees Valley avoid moving into the very high ‘tier three’ level with the harshest restrictions.

Cllr Lanigan was critical of the Government’s approach to date in attempting to stem the virus, stating: “It is like working with a hand tied behind your back. 

“We need full control within Redcar and Cleveland as do the rest of the Tees Valley leaders.

“We know our areas and we know where this is happening.

“When I spoke to the minister on Friday there is no exit strategy and they don’t seem to know what they are doing.”

The council leader said more Covid-19 testing stations had been requested for South Bank, Redcar, and also in east Cleveland.

She said: “We have Covid in every single ward. 

“The Loftus area was exempt from that for some time, we now have 51 cases there that started in a nursing home.

“The test and trace system hasn’t been as it should have been, but they have doubled their numbers and are extremely busy.

“Hartlepool are two weeks ahead of us [in moving into tier two] and their numbers have started to drop, but ours have not, neither have Stockton or Middlesbrough.”

She told members of the committee: “We will let you know when the army are coming in, but it is Redcar that they are coming in to test.

“I need a baseline as to where we are. It looks as if there are a lot of people with the virus that aren’t showing any symptoms.

“They opened another ward at James Cook University Hospital [in Middlesbrough] yesterday and although they have not got the numbers that they had in March, April and May, they are starting to build.

“This is spreading. Guisborough is pretty bad at the moment, we have issues in South Bank, Eston, Grangetown, Normanby.”

Councillor Christopher Gallacher asked what the criteria would be for mass testing and queried whether it would work.

Cllr Lanigan said it would be blanket testing and said she “presumed they are going street by street”.

Cllr Gallacher said: “Unless you have people locked down and in their homes there are going to be endless people not at home to be tested, they’ll be out and about working, or shopping.

“I hope there is a little bit of thought gone into how they are going to execute this.

“It is problematic without everybody being locked down at a given time and place to be tested, almost like marshall law being imposed, god forbid.”

The meeting heard claims from Councillor Anne Watts that before Redcar and Cleveland moved into the tier two status, coaches had been coming into Guisborough from Middlesbrough – which moved into tier two previously – carrying drinkers to the town’s pubs.

Cllr Lanigan said she would raise this with Cleveland Police, adding: “The public has to understand they have to follow the guidelines, if they did we would not be in the situation we are in at the moment.

“If they test positive, they have to self-isolate.

“This is not going to go away and it is going to go on for month after month after month.”

Councillor Philip Thomson, leader of the Conservative group on the council, said the fundamentals had to be right in terms of the processing of Covid-19 tests and a minimum follow-up in terms of tracing individuals who had been in contact with positive cases.

He said: “We have to get this right.

“The awareness across generations also really needs to be brought home to residents.

“We can all cite examples of where non-observance is taking place.

“If the practice isn’t in place we are going to fail.”

Former council leader Sue Jeffrey suggested she had lost confidence in the council’s political leadership and referred to an “unthought through announcement” by Cllr Lanigan.

She said: “Are we talking about the army going up every street and giving them a compulsory Covid test?

“The only way we will resolve this is by securing the consent of the people of Redcar and Cleveland to do the things we have to do to stop the spread of the virus.

“It is so important if we are going to make this work.”