Lambeth Public Health Director explains origin of spike in South Africa Covid strain

13 April 2021, 14:26 | Updated: 13 April 2021, 14:28

By Fiona Jones

Lambeth Council's public health director Ruth Hutt explained the origin of a spike in South African variant Covid cases, after it was spotted through the comprehensive testing solutions in place.

The largest amount of surge testing to date has begun in Wandsworth and Lambeth after 44 confirmed cases of the South Africa coronavirus variant were detected.

Anybody aged 11 or over who lives, works or travels in that area of South London has been strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 PCR test, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.

The move comes as officials found a further 30 probable cases and all identified cases are either isolating or have completed their isolation.

She explained where the origin of this outbreak may have started: "There was a care home where there was a contained outbreak of this strain, and that accounts for a significant number of the cases that you reported earlier.

"Those cases got picked up because we do regular testing in the care home, so every care home will have a weekly testing regime for staff and a monthly testing regime for residents - and through those test we actually picked up those Covid cases.

"It does show some of the screening we've got in place is working really effectively to pick up cases early."

Many of those in the care home have been vaccinated, so even though the strain has been picked up within residents the infections are mild or entirely non-symptomatic, showing the jab is giving significant protection, she said.

The two London boroughs are calling for everyone in the area to have PCR tests, which can be done onsite at the pop-up test centres or at home - although people are encouraged to have the tests on site as it is "easier" for themselves and staff.

Ms Hutt told LBC: "We expected and hoped people would respond to the call to action to get tested but I think we were more thinking about how do we persuade people to come out and get tested.

"We're delighted at the response and we will be running these testing sites for at least two weeks, so if people haven't been able to get into these testings sites today, that's OK. There'll be plenty of opportunity."

An official release said: "This is the largest surge testing operation to date and aims to help control and suppress any possible new cases of the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa."

Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser for NHS Test and Trace said: “The cluster of cases of the variant first identified in South Africa found in parts of South London, predominantly the Lambeth and Wandsworth areas is significant. It’s really important people in the local area play their part in stopping any further spread within the local community."

The first case of the variant was detected in March.Anyone with symptoms should book a free test over the phone or online, while anyone without symptoms should use Wandsworth or Lambeth council websites to do so.