COVID-19: Surge testing in two more parts of London after South Africa coronavirus variant found

Surge testing is to be carried out in two more areas of London after cases of the South Africa COVID variant were discovered.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said additional testing and genomic sequencing is being used in a highly targeted way within the Camberwell area of south London – in the SE5 postcode area – and in parts of the borough of Harrow, in the HA2 and HA3 postcodes.

Enhanced contact tracing will be used for people who test positive with the variant, the DHSC said.

People living in the targeted areas are being strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test when offered, whether they are showing symptoms or not.

The London Borough of Southwark, which administers the SE5 postcode area, said a case of the South African variant had been found in the Faraday ward area.

A statement said the council is delivering COVID-19 tests to properties in the immediate area and has sent letters to about 2,000 properties in a wider area asking residents to take a test if they either have no symptoms and leave the house regularly for essential reasons or if they do have symptoms.

They asked residents with further concerns to get in touch at publichealth@southwark.gov.uk or on 020 7525 5000.

Cllr Evelyn Akoto, cabinet member for community safety and public health in Southwark, said: "It is important that we identify how far, if at all, the variant has spread. If you’re contacted by the council by letter, please take a test if we ask you to. You can also contact us if you have any questions or concerns."

Harrow Council said the surge testing had been deployed as a result of "unrelated cases" being detected in Headstone North and Wealdstone.

A statement said: "The council will shortly offer tests to anyone over the age of 16 living or working in a small number of selected streets.

"They will be asked either to complete a home test or book a test at Harrow Arts Centre. The council will also be approaching nearby businesses.

"These streets are in Belmont, Harrow Weald, Hatch End, Headstone North, Marlborough and Wealdstone wards."

Earlier this month, surge testing was deployed in North Wembley, not far from the affected parts of Harrow, after the South African variant was traced in the area.

In south London, people living in Battersea, Roehampton and Putney Heath were asked five days ago to take a test, even if they were not showing symptoms. That was also due to the discovery of the South African variant.

The head of the UK effort to find new variants, Prof Sharon Peacock of COG-UK, says out of all the variants that have been identified in the last few months, including the one dubbed Kent, after it was first identified in COVID cases from the county, she is most worried about the one from South Africa.

She told Reuters B.1.351, as the variant is also known, "is more transmissible but it also has a change in a gene mutation, which we refer to as E484K, which is associated with reduced immunity – so our immunity is reduced against that virus".

Surge testing has been carried out in a number of places across the UK whenever cases of the South African, Brazilian (P1) and other variants of concern have been found.

As of 10 March, the government says it has identified 234 cases of the South Africa variant and 7 cases of the Brazilian P1 variant.

(c) Sky News 2021: COVID-19: Surge testing in two more parts of London after South Africa coronavirus variant found

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