South African variant of Covid found in eight areas of England

Monday - 01/02/2021 10:33
Covid signage in London. All adults in affected postcodes will be urged to get a PCR swab test and public health officials will start going door-to-door this week. Photograph: Anthony Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock
Covid signage in London. All adults in affected postcodes will be urged to get a PCR swab test and public health officials will start going door-to-door this week. Photograph: Anthony Harvey/Rex/Shutterstock
Door-to-door testing launched as cases found in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Kent, Walsall, Sefton and three London boroughs

The South African variant of coronavirus has been discovered in eight different areas of England where people had no clear travel links to South Africa, sparking a “a two-week sprint to test everyone” in the affected postcodes, the Guardian has learned.

Door-to-door testing is being launched after cases of the mutation were found in Hertfordshire, Surrey, Kent, Walsall, Sefton and in the London boroughs of Merton, Haringey and Ealing.

In an effort to stop the variant spreading further, tests will start on Thursday in parts of Hertfordshire, where one case of the mutation was discovered, and in Surrey, where two people tested positive despite having no apparent links to other cases.

A briefing on the response, seen by the Guardian, states that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, “has ordered an attempt at eradication of the new variant if at all possible”. Contact-tracing resources will be focused on areas where the testing is carried out.

It states that all adults in affected postcode areas within those boroughs will be urged to get a PCR swab test and public health officials will start going door-to-door this week.

The eight postcode areas are W7, N17 and CR4 in London, WS2 in Walsall, ME15 in Kent, EN10 in Hertfordshire, GU21 in Surrey and PR9 in Lancashire.

It means public health officials will seek to test 80,000 adults either door-to-door or through additional mobile testing units that Public Health England said will be deployed. Positive tests will be sequenced for their genetic markers to track any further variations.

The 11 cases in the eight areas were discovered with no link to travel from South Africa and are likely to be second or third generation infections from cases originating from South Africa, public health officials believe. It brings to 105 the number of cases of the variant found so far in England. There is as yet no firm research on the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the variant, although work is under way to establish that.

Officials want to use the tests to break chains of community transmission in a way that it was too late to do with the UK variant that spread from Kent before Christmas.

Surrey Local Resilience Forum, Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said they would carry out “surge testing”, in which residents in the Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas of Woking would be visited and requested to take a PCR test regardless of symptoms.

Ruth Hutchinson, the director of public health for Surrey, said: “This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further. By playing your part and taking the test, you’ll be helping to keep your community and your loved ones safe.

“It’s really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don’t need to worry.”

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 Keywords: South Africa, COVID 19

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