Hundreds seen as 'surge testing' begins in Southport after fears of South African coronavirus variant

Large crowds have been turning up to be tested in Southport as health officials try to track down and isolate people infected with the South African strain of coronavirus.

It is said to be a more infectious variant of Covid-19 and it is feared there may be a number of cases in the Norwood area of Southport - the area with the PR9 postcode.

There was concern testing there had started later than in other areas affected, but council officials said setting up the operation complete with volunteers has been a massive task.

Mobile testing units have now opened while testing kits are also being handed out door to door.

Within four hours of one dedicated centre opening on a car park in the town around 200 residents had used the facility.

Hundreds used specialist testing centres set up to help detect the South African Covid variant.

Councillor Greg Myers said: "When people first heard the South African variant of Covid was here, there was shock, concern, confusion."

But he added, residents were dealing with the situation calmly, "it's very calm, people are reacting very well, there's no sort of hysteria or anything like that.

"It's all very measured and people are very grateful that the facility is here."

Throughout the day a steady flow of residents continued to arrive at the centre, each wanting to do their bit to help stop any spread of this mutant strain.

For many, it's presence so close to home is worrying.

Sefton Council said the tests will provide results showing whether someone is positive for coronavirus in around two days, while analysis of swabs to identify the presence of the South African variant will take up to 10 days.

Director of public health for Sefton Margaret Jones said: "Having been told that the variant had been identified in the borough late on Saturday, I am pleased that we have been able to get this testing for the area up and running today.

"It is a real testament to the way everyone has worked to make this programme work.

"We want everyone aged 16 and over in the affected area to take one of these specific tests, either using the home test kit that will be delivered to them or by using the dedicated mobile unit at the former Kew Park and Ride site.

"This will help us identify and nip this variant, which could be more transmissible, meaning that it could spread more quickly, in the bud."