Surge testing in three new UK areas after cases of South African variant detected

13 February 2021, 13:07 | Updated: 13 February 2021, 14:10

Surge testing will be introduced in parts of Middlesbrough, Walsall and Hampshire
Surge testing will be introduced in parts of Middlesbrough, Walsall and Hampshire. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Surge testing will be introduced in parts of Middlesbrough, Walsall and Hampshire after cases of the South African Covid variant were detected.

People in the regions are being encouraged to take a Covid-19 test, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms, due to the emergence of the strain.

Residents in the TS7 postcode area of Middlesbrough, the RG26 area of North Hampshire and parts of Walsall will be affected. They will not need to book an appointment before attending a test.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was working in partnership with local authorities in each region to provide additional surge testing and genomic sequencing.

They added that surge testing in Egham, Surrey, and Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, which began on 6 and 1 February respectively is now complete.

Surge testing has been used in a number of areas across the country in attempts to get on top of new variants of the disease.

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One case of the coronavirus variant was identified in the village of Bramley, near Basingstoke, Hampshire.

Residents aged 16 and over will, from next week, be subject to a surge-testing programme in a bid to find any further cases of the variant.

Simon Bryant, director of public health at Hampshire County Council, said: "I appreciate that this news may be worrying for the local community, but it's really important to understand that the risk of transmission from this single case is considered to be very low, helped by the fact that national restrictions are in place, with most people staying at home and adhering to the government guidance of 'hands, face, space'."

He added: "The rapid local testing programme is primarily a precautionary measure designed to help the government to better understand and prevent the spread of new variants across the country."

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In Walsall, where 10,000 residents were offered tests earlier this month, surge testing will be expanded to include more regions.

It comes after a second confirmed case of the South African Covid variant was found that is not believed to be linked to the previous infection or international travel.

Walsall currently has the third-highest infection rate in England (402.5 new cases per 100,000 people in the seven days to February 8), while Middlesbrough's rate of 357.5 is fifth.

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Middlesbrough Council deployed a mobile testing unit at the Parkway Centre in Coulby Newham on Saturday after a positive case was detected in the Marton and Coulby Newham areas.

It was identified as part of random sequencing by Public Health England (PHE).

Esther Mireku, a public health consultant, said: “I urge everyone over the age of 16 in the Marton and Coulby Newham areas to come forward for a test. This will help us understand more about the potential spread of this new variant."

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “New variants are popping up in different towns and cities around the country.

“What’s really important now is that we establish whether the variant has spread further around Middlesbrough.

“I don’t want people to be unduly alarmed... much brighter days are ahead, but when new variants emerge we’ve got to act decisively and that’s what we’ll do with this additional testing.”

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A spokesperson for the DHSC said: "Further targeted areas will have additional testing made available to help monitor and suppress the spread of a Covid-19 variant.

"Working in partnership with the local authorities, additional surge testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to targeted areas within Middlesbrough within TS7, areas in Walsall and in specific areas in the RG26 postcode in Hampshire where the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.

"Surge testing is being introduced in addition to existing extensive testing, and in combination with following the lockdown rules and remembering 'hands, face, space', will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus.

"Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help understand Covid-19 variants and their spread within these areas.

"People living within these targeted areas are strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test this week, whether they are showing symptoms or not.

"People with symptoms should book a test in the usual way, and those without symptoms should visit their local authority website for more information."

"Surge testing in the Egham and Broxbourne areas, which began on February 6 and February 1, is now complete and further data on surge testing will be provided in due course."

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