England to step up testing after detecting 11 S.African variant cases
Health officials said Monday they will urgently increase testing in eight areas across England where nearly a dozen South African Covid-19 variant cases have been identified in the last week.
ealth officials said Monday they will urgently increase testing in eight areas across England where nearly a dozen South African Covid-19 variant cases have been identified in the last week.
The 11 cases, detected in genomic sequencing carried out on random samples of positive coronavirus results, cannot be traced back to international travel, prompting concerns of localised transmission.
The move in the areas — home to around 80,000 people and including parts of London and the southeast, as well as the West Midlands, eastern and northwest England — will see mobile and door-to-door testing capacity rolled out.
In a break with usual procedures, even those not showing virus symptoms can get tested in the affected places.
“If you live in one of these postcodes where we’re sending in enhanced testing, it’s imperative that you stay at home and that you get a test even if you don’t have symptoms,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at a Downing Street press conference.
“This is a stark reminder that the fight against this virus isn’t over yet,” he said, after noting overall infections were falling across Britain weeks into a third lockdown.
The highly transmissible variant first identified in South Africa is spreading rapidly around the world, and was last week detected for the first time in the United States.
Scientists are worried about the mutation because it seems able to elude some of the effects of current vaccines and synthetic antibody treatments, though several firms have said their shots still work against it.
– Travel ban –
Britain has so far detected 105 cases of the strain since in emerged in December.
It imposed a travel ban on flights and arrivals from South Africa later that month, and has beefed up quarantine and other measures for all incoming travellers.
Officials had hoped that would prevent the variant being imported, but the 11 new cases without travel links have heightened concerns that the strategy may have failed.
owever, in six of the eight places seeing new cases of the variant in the last week, the infections were found in just single people rather than clusters.
“These cases do not appear linked at the moment, they’re in quite separate parts of the country,” Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor for the state-run health service’s test and trace programme, said.
“They’re more likely to be related to somebody who potentially had asymptomatic infection when they came in from abroad.”
Surrey, a leafy commuter area southwest of London, is among those being targeted with the testing surge after “a very limited number” of its residents were detected with the variant, a local leader said.
Tim Oliver, head of Surrey County Council, told AFP a team of its volunteers were going door-to-door with public health officials to see “how much it’s spread into the community”.
“They will… leave them with the testing kit for them to do themselves and then go back and pick it up a little bit later,” he added.