Covid cases with 'mutation of concern' identified in Liverpool and Bristol

2 February 2021, 13:31 | Updated: 2 February 2021, 14:51

People queue for a COVID-19 test at a newly set-up testing facility in a car park in West Ealing, London
People queue for a COVID-19 test at a newly set-up testing facility in a car park in West Ealing, London. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Forty three coronavirus cases with a "mutation of concern" have been discovered in England, this time in Liverpool and Bristol, Matt Hancock has said.

The Health Secretary said on Tuesday there had been 32 cases with a mutation in Liverpool and 11 in Bristol.

It comes after 105 cases of the South African strain were identified across the UK, including 11 in individuals who were found to have tested positive for the variant, despite having no links to travel or previous cases of the strain.

Read more: Kent coronavirus mutation: What is the E484K strain and will it impact vaccine efficiency?

Read more: South Africa variant: How door-to-door testing works and which areas will be tested

Enhanced testing began on Monday in eight other areas of the country where the variant had been identified.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits will be deployed to areas where the variant has been discovered as the UK Government looks to prevent it getting a foothold.

Five cases of the South Africa variant have also been identified in Scotland. All of them are linked to travel, so there is no evidence of community transmission.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons the aim of the UK in relation to the South Africa variant of Covid-19 must be to "stop its spread altogether".

He said: "As with the variant first identified here in the UK there is currently no evidence to suggest it is any more severe but we have to come down on it hard.

"Our mission must be to stop its spread altogether and break those chains of transmission."

Read more: Mutation of Kent Covid-19 variant 'could impact effectiveness of some vaccines'

Mr Hancock said: "In those areas where this variant has been found - parts of Broxbourne, London, Maidstone and Southport, Walsall and Woking - we're putting in extra testing and sequencing every positive test.

"Working with local authorities we're going door to door to test everyone in those areas and mobile testing units will be deployed offering PCR tests to people who have to leave their home for work or other essential reasons.

"We have also seen 11 cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and 32 in Liverpool, and are taking the same approach. In all these areas it is imperative that people must stay at home and only leave home where it is absolutely essential."

Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked whether testing could be rolled out to neighbouring postcodes of areas where a new variant of the virus has been identified.

He told the Commons: "I welcome the extra testing but can I suggest (Matt Hancock) goes further because people move beyond their postcode boundaries - they go shopping, many still have to go to work.

"Will he therefore roll out testing in neighbouring postcodes?"

Mr Hancock responded: "(Mr Ashworth) asks for the neighbouring postcodes to those postcodes where a new variant case has been found where it's a new variant that is a variant of concern, we absolutely do that where it is epidemiologically sensible.

"So, for instance, if the case is found on the border of a postcode, obviously we go across that border and we also investigate linked premises, for instance if somebody had a child at a school or is going to work in a particular workplace."

Door-to-door testing will begin in Surrey but will also take place in London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Walsall.

Households in the Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas in Woking will be asked to have a coronavirus test, even if they don't have any symptoms.

Door-to-door testing will also begin in the ME15 area of Maidstone, Kent, on Tuesday, after a resident who had no links to travel or other variant cases tested positive for the variant.

Other areas where additional surge testing and sequencing will take place are:

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

- WS2 in Walsall, West Midlands

- EN10 in Broxbourne, Essex

- PR9 near Southport, Merseyside

Every person over 16 living in these locations is strongly encouraged to take a Covid test this week, whether they are showing symptoms or not.

Only one case of the South African variant of coronavirus has been identified so far in the local population where door-to-door testing is to take place in part of Kent, council officials said.

Speaking in Maidstone, Kent County Council director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark said: "We do know that this virus is capable of changing, we are obviously worried about all variants and whether they are changing, and we need to understand how that is circulating, and what effect that has on our local communities.

"The purpose of the work that we're doing here is for the South African variant.

"We have had one case in the local population and what we're doing is doing a survey right across this small geography asking people to undertake PCR testing in order for us to not only determine whether those samples and those people have coronavirus, but also what is the sequence and what is the circulating virus.

"The whole purpose of this is to not only test for Covid positivity but also to sequence so that sequencing will be looking for all of the different variants of Covid."

Despite the door-to-door testing being carried out amid concerns over the coronavirus variant, Mr Scott-Clark advised residents that it is "business as usual".

He said: "We don't want people to not go to their health appointments, we don't want people not to go for their Covid vaccines, we need our infrastructure to continue to work.

"Therefore, we're advising it's business as usual if you can work at home stay at home, otherwise if you're home we'll test you if you're not we'll leave the locality of where we've deployed a mobile testing unit that you can take yourself off to get tested."