A total of 80,000 people are set to be tested via a door to door government initiative in a bid to “find every single case” of the South African coronavirus variant in England.
On the spot at-home and mobile testing will all be used to try and identify any case of the variant in eight areas across the country.
The move comes after 105 cases of the more infectious Covid-19 variant were found, with 11 of them identified over the last week not appearing to have any links to international travel.
Where areas are affected?
The so-called “surge testing” will take place in eight areas linked to cases of the variant:
- London - W7 (Ealing), N17 (Haringey) and CR4 (Mitcham)
- West Midlands - WS2 (Walsall)
- East of England - EN10 (Broxbourne)
- South East - ME15 (Maidstone) and GU21 (Woking)
- North West - PR9 (Southport)
Home testing kits are being delivered and collected in homes in these areas, while some areas are also providing mobile testing sites.
Southport’s Sefton Council, has said it is still working out how the additional tests will be carried out, but it is expecting to establish dedicated testing sites.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that “finding every case” of the new variant is the goal, with everyone over 16 years olf in the targeted area urged to take a test, whether they have symptoms or not.
All cases of the Covid variant found so far are now self-isolating, and robust tracing has taken place to trace their contacts and ask them to also self-isolate.
What is the South African variant?
The South African variant is officially known as 501.V2. It is one of a few Covid-19 variants that have caught the attention of experts, after they caused an alarming increase in infections.
There is no evidence that the new variant causes much more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected. There are, however, concerns that it can spread more quickly, and that existing vaccines may not be quite as effective against it.
The variant carries a mutation of Covid-19 called E484K, among others. The mutation differs from the UK mutation found in Kent late last year. Both mutations were found to be more contagious.
While the UK variant is unlikely to harm the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccine, scientists have said there is a chance that the South African variant may alter the effectiveness to some extent.
Dr Susan Hopkins from Public Health England said three vaccines trailed against the variant showed effectiveness against it a higher level than the minimum standard set by the World Health Organisation.
Dr Hopkins also cautioned that jabs may have a diminished effect on the variant and that people may need to get a booster shot every year.
Vaccines can be redesigned and tweaked in a matter of weeks if necessary to tackle new variants.