Covid surge testing to be launched in London boroughs after Indian variant detected

Surge testing is being ramped up around the country, ITV News Correspondent Neil Connery reports

Covid surge testing will be launched in several London boroughs after cases were detected of the Indian variant.

People living and working in specific areas of Harrow, Ealing, Hillingdon and Brent will be advised to take a PCR test even if they do not have symptoms, following the identification of the B1617.2 strain in the London boroughs. Local authorities are yet to confirm the areas where additional testing will be offered within the boroughs.

The cases found have been instructed to self-isolate and their contacts are being identified.

NHS Test and Trace is providing additional testing and genomic sequencing in education settings.

People who do not symptoms are advised take a PCR test in the four London boroughs. Credit: PA

Along with increased testing in the boroughs, so-called “enhanced contact tracing” – whereby tracers look back over an extended period of time to determine the route of transmission – will be used for those who test positive with a variant of concern.Cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus in the UK have risen by more than 2,000 in the space of a week, according to figures from Public Health England (PHE).

The latest weekly data showed there were 3,424 cases of the B1617.2 mutation – an increase of 2,111 on the previous week.

  • Listen to the Coronavirus: What You Need To Know podcast

While most cases were concentrated in the North West – particularly Bolton – and London, PHE said it was seeing “clusters of cases” across the country.

Dr Meera Chand, the Covid-19 incident director at PHE, said it was essential people in the worst-affected areas who had yet to receive their second dose of the vaccine came forward as soon as it was offered.

“This is vitally important in the light of our current assessment that (B1617.2) has grown rapidly in England and may be highly transmissible,” she said.

Samples of wastewater can be tested for traces of the coronavirus. Credit: PA

It comes as the government announced that sewage testing, to track the prevalence of different Covid-19, variants now covers two-thirds of England's population.

The scheme tests samples of wastewater for traces of the virus, and positive samples are genome sequenced to identify whether it is a variant of concern, such as the India strain.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the programme had helped identify the need for surge testing in areas such as Bristol and Luton.

The programme then continues to monitor sewage after surge testing has ended, to ensure the variant is no longer circulating in the area.

Also on Saturday, people aged 32 and 33 in England could begin to book their first coronavirus jab.

As the government ramps up the rollout, one million more people in their thirties will be able to book their first dose via the NHS website from 7am.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged all those offered a jab to accept it and confirmed there are enough doses to continue rolling them out down the age groups.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock says it is vitally important for all UK adults to get both doses of the Covid vaccine

The other UK nations are already offering jabs to younger age groups - people aged 30 and over are eligible in Scotland, as are over-18s in Wales and over-25s in Northern Ireland.It came as NHS England confirmed it had delivered more than 50 million vaccine doses, with more than 40% of adults having had both jabs.

People aged 33 will receive texts inviting them to book a vaccination from Saturday, and from Monday people aged 32 will receive a message.

Since eligibility was widened for people under 40 just over a week ago, 2.6 million more bookings have already been made, the NHS has said.