A case of the Covid-19 variant first discovered in South Africa has been confirmed in Walsall.
The case has been identified in the WS2 area and officials are now working with Public Health England to curb any potential spread of the variant.
Walsall Council says this will include significantly increasing the testing offer in a targeted and "intelligence-led way". A new testing centre has since opened at Walsall College.
What's being advised if I live in the WS2 area?
Residents, over the age of 18 who are living or working in parts of the WS2, are being strongly advised to take a COVID-19 test this week, even if they are not showing symptoms. A postcode checker to see if you live in a part of Walsall where you should get a test is available here.
Will this new variant cause a more severe illness?
Officials say there is currently no evidence that this variant causes the illness to be more severe, or that the regulated vaccines would not protect against it. However, research indicates that it does transmit from person to person more easily.
What safety measures should I follow?
Councillor Stephen Craddock has urged people to play their part by following the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance and minimise your contact with others as much as possible.
Will testing be ramped up?
There will be a minimum of one additional Mobile Testing Unit (MTU) in the borough as well as offering home testing kits, which come with clear instructions.
What happens if my test comes back positive?
The Council says positive tests will be analysed to identify any further spread of the new variant first discovered in South Africa. They say this will enable a better understanding of the variant and identify if there are any more cases of this particular strand of the virus in the area.
There is now a drive to test an additional 10,000 residents without symptoms of COVID-19 in the next few weeks to "assess containment of this variant", Cllr Craddock added.
The health secretary has warned tens of thousands of people in a number of postcode areas to take "extra special precaution" in order to avoid spreading the variant.
Elsewhere, Birmingham City Council's director of public health Dr Justin Varney told a West Midlands Combined Authority meeting there will be other cases of the South African variant in the region. Dr Varney said, "Walsall is the first, there will be others in the West Midlands I'm sure" and added that in order to contain the South African variant we need to "identify every case as quickly as possible."
Meanwhile, Dr Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Advisor for NHS Test and Trace has said a small proportion of these cases have no link to international travel suggesting that there are some cases in the community.
She added: “In response to this, we are ramping up testing in targeted areas, so we can gather more information and effectively monitor any further community transmission.”
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