Surge testing in an area of Essex after one case of South Africa variant found

21 February 2021, 12:16 | Updated: 21 February 2021, 14:22

Surge testing is being carried out in areas across the UK where new variants have been found.
Surge testing is being carried out in areas across the UK where new variants have been found. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Targeted surge testing will be deployed in Brentwood, Essex, after a case of the South African Covid variant was found.

Everyone living in the CM13 postcode will be "strongly encouraged" to take a Covid-19 test, even if they have no symptoms, the Department for Health and Social Care announced.

Brentwood is only the latest area where surge testing has been deployed over Covid "variants of concern".

On Thursday, additional testing was announced for areas around Leeds, including parts of Harehills and the area just north of Easterly Road, where cases of the South African variant was found.

Testing was also announced for parts of Middlesbrough, Walsall and Hampshire earlier this week.

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Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help understand the variants and their spread within these areas.

At the beginning of February, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was "on all of us" to contain the new variant, which was feared to be spreading in communities.

However, on Sunday, Mr Hancock told Sky News there was evidence that cases of new variants in the UK, such as those discovered in Brazil and South Africa, were falling.

The "enhanced contact tracing", stricter measures at the border and a "hit it hard" approach of localised surge testing was working to curb the spread of new variants, he claimed.

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Scientists are concerned the South African variant and one found in Manaus, Brazil, could reduce the effectiveness of the Covid vaccines.

However, research is ongoing into the impact new variants could have, with experts stressing it is very unusual for any variant to render a vaccine completely ineffective.

Read more: All close contacts of people with Covid to be tested in Scotland

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Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned people will need "to get used to the idea of vaccinating and revaccinating in the autumn" to fight new variants.

In preparation, the government have established an expert advisory group to identify the variants that the UK could need vaccines against.

They have also partnered with vaccine manufacturer CureVac to rapidly develop new vaccines if needed, with 50 million doses ordered for later this year if they are required.

"Being able to create these new vaccines at speed will allow our scientists to keep ahead of the virus as they do every year with the influenza vaccine," Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said.

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