Covid-19: Test blitz to ‘find every case’ of South African variant
A door-to-door testing blitz is getting under way in a bid to find “every single case” of the South African coronavirus variant in England.
On-the-spot doorstep tests, home testing kits and mobile testing units will be deployed to try to reach 80,000 people in eight specific areas.
It follows fears that the more infectious version may be spreading in communities in England.
The health secretary said he wanted to “come down hard” on the variant.
Matt Hancock said that “finding every case” of the variant is the goal, with everyone over 16 in the targeted areas urged to take a test, whether they have symptoms of not.
Gene sequencing has so far uncovered 105 cases of the variant, which like the variant previously discovered in Kent is thought to be more contagious although not more deadly. Eleven of the cases of the South African variant had no link to foreign travel, prompting concerns it is spreading in the community.
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Dr Susan Hopkins from Public Health England said the existing vaccines may offer less protection against the South African variant, although they still offer a good level of immunity.
The testing surge will take place in these eight areas linked to cases of the variant:
- Parts of the ME15 postcode area in Kent,
- Parts of the WS2 postcode area in Walsall in the West Midlands
- Parts of the GU21 postcode area in Woking, Surrey
- The CR4 postcode area around Pollards Hill in south London
- Tottenham Hale in the N17 area of north London
- The W7 area in Hanwell and West Ealing, London
- The EN10 postcode area in Broxbourne
- Parts of the PR9 area in Southport
In most of the areas, home testing kits are being delivered and collected, while some are also providing mobile testing sites. In Kent, police, council workers, firefighters and other agencies will visit homes to carry out on-the-spot tests of everyone in the household.
Sefton Council, which covers Southport, said on Monday it was still working out how the additional tests would be carried out, although it expected to establish dedicated testing sites for the new variant.
Mr Hancock also said it was “absolutely vital” that people in these areas where cases of the variant had been identified minimise all social contact.
Mass testing has previously been deployed in Liverpool, where more than 200,000 people were tested in November, detecting 800 asymptomatic cases.
It prompted plans to extend the testing programme to 67 areas of England, although concerns were raised about the reliability of the rapid “lateral flow” tests being used.
The surge testing being deployed in the eight areas where the South Africa variant was detected will, however, offer the more accurate PCR tests to people who need to leave home for work or other essential purposes.
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In December, the discovery of the new strain prompted a ban on foreign nationals travelling into the UK from South Africa and later from southern African countries.
Under current restrictions, people arriving into England from anywhere outside the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man need to isolate at home for 10 days and provide a negative Covid test result before travel.
A new system of quarantine requiring those arriving from countries under travel bans to isolate in hotels is due to be introduced in the coming weeks.
Labour, however, wants the government to go further and introduce a hotel quarantine system for all UK arrivals.
On Monday, the House of Commons voted 262-0 in favour of a non-binding motion to introduce such a system. All Conservative MPs abstained.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said it was “deeply irresponsible for the government to not back Labour’s proposals”.
“We are in a race against time and ministers are missing a vital chance to help shut the door on virus mutations,” he said.
Home Office minister Robert Courts said “blanket restrictions” had been considered but were “not appropriate”.
“We are an island nation yet a global hub,” he said – adding that it was “critical that we allow freight to keep moving”.
The latest data shows that 9,296,367 first doses of the vaccine have now been given, with almost half of people in their 70s given a jab and almost 90% of over-80s.
Dr Hopkins said laboratory studies were being carried out to provide further evidence of the vaccines’ effectiveness against new variants.
The three vaccines approved so far – Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna – all showed effectiveness against the South Africa variant that was higher than the minimum standard set by the World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration, she said.
She said she expected other vaccines to have similar levels of effectiveness against the variant, particularly in reducing serious illness and deaths from the virus.
On Monday the UK recorded 18,607 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a further 406 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.
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Published at Tue, 02 Feb 2021 07:21:19 +0000