Don't go shopping in variant-risk areas if you don't have to, Hancock tells LBC

3 February 2021, 08:34 | Updated: 3 February 2021, 09:10

By Joe Cook

Matt Hancock has told LBC’s Nick Ferrari that people living in areas with new Covid variants must follow the rules “absolutely rigorously” if we are to contain the virus.

Enhanced mobile testing is being rolled out in some areas of the UK over fears that the South African variant of Covid-19 - which may be more resistant to vaccines - is spreading amongst the community.

The health secretary told LBC he was “confident” the variant could be contained, but that “it is on all of us and everybody living in those areas to stop the transmission”.

Although shopping is permitted under the national lockdown rules, Mr Hancock called on those living in these variant-risk areas to do “everything they possibly can to minimise contact”.

“If you have food in the house and you therefore don’t have to go shopping, then please don’t go shopping,” he said.

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“We haven’t changed the law in these areas,” the health secretary continued, but added the message was important to “communicate with everyone, both listening to LBC in those areas and the local authority going around on the ground”.

“That is guidance, because obviously, if you haven’t got any food then you should go and buy food,” Mr Hancock told Nick Ferrari.

Daily exercise is also still permitted in these areas, but only "if it is on your own and at a social distance from anybody who come across".

However, even in areas where there are concerns about the new strain, "keyworkers do have to go to work," he continued.

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The calls from the health secretary come as enhanced testing of over 80,000 people began this week, in an attempt to root out "evert single case" of the South African Covid variant.

Over 16s across areas including London, Kent and Southport will be taking part in door to door testing, even if no symptoms are showing.

So far, over 100 cases of the strain have been identified to date across the UK, across at least eight areas of England.

These areas - where Mr Hancock suggests people should not be shopping unnecessarily - include:

- Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas in Woking;

- ME15 area of Maidstone;

- W7 (Ealing), N17 (Tottenham) and CR4 (Mitcham) in London

- WS2 in Walsall, West Midlands

- EN10 in Broxbourne, Essex

- PR9 near Southport, Merseyside

On Tuesday, Mr Hancock told Parliament that 43 Covid-19 cases with a "mutation of concern" have also been discovered in Liverpool and Bristol.

While there are concerns that the South African variant could reduce vaccine effectiveness, there are currently no suggestions that it is more severe.

More research is underway, but scientists have said it is extremely unlikely mutations will make the Covid vaccines useless, it may just be that the human immune response may not be as strong or prolonged.