Video report by ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan
Quick Covid tests will be carried out door-to-door in parts of England after the South Africa variant of the virus was identified in positive tests.
Medics will reach out to 80,000 residents directly in parts of Surrey, London, Kent, Walsall, Southport and Hertfordshire in a bid to curb the variant’s spread.
Each resident visited will be requested to take a PCR Covid test – which can provide swift results on the same day – whether they have symptoms or not.
There have been 11 cases of the variant identified across England with no links to travel to South Africa.
Two positive cases of the strain – which have been worrying scientists – have been identified in people in Surrey with no links to travel or previous contact with those affected.
So far, just over 100 cases of the South African strain have been identified to date across the UK, but this is the first signal of wider community spread.
Where will the surge testing happen?
Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas of Woking in Surrey, GU21
Hanwell and parts of West Ealing, W7
There is currently no evidence suggesting the South Africa variant causes more severe illness or that the regulated vaccines would not protect against it.
Ruth Hutchinson, director of public health for Surrey, said: “This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further. "
“By playing your part and taking the test, you’ll be helping to keep your community and your loved ones safe.
“It’s really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don’t need to worry.”
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Dr Alison Barnett, regional director at Public Health England South East, said: “The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Surrey. “I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.
“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down fears about vaccines being ineffective against different variants.
During a visit to the Al Hikmah vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, Mr Johnson told reporters: “We are confident that all the vaccines that we are using provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants.”
He said the vaccines could be adapted to deal with new variants if necessary.
“The fact is we are going to be living with Covid for a while to come in one way or another,” he added.
“I don’t think it will be as bad as the last 12 months – or anything like – of course, but it’s very, very important that our vaccines continue to develop and to adapt, and they will.”