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Thousands of Londoners are being urged to get tested to try and stamp out a “concerning” strain of the virus which causes Covid-19.
One expert said “none” of the vaccines are as effective against the South African variant – though studies suggest that the jabs still prevent severe disease and death.
Rapid surge testing has been deployed in four London boroughs – with all adults in Wandsworth and Lambeth being asked to get a test and people in specific areas of Barnet and Southwark also invited to perform at test.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Boris Johnson took the situation “very seriously” and recommended for everyone to “take up that invitation” to get tested.
London’s regional director of Public Health England said vaccines and surge testing are part of a “package of interventions” for managing life with coronavirus in future.
“As we begin to recirculate in society, we want to encourage everybody to get vaccinated,” Professor Kevin Fenton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“That certainly gives us additional protection. But we need to continue to practise our preventive measures, and we need to do the surge testing if we find variants in order to contain them.
“These are the package of interventions that we will need to be getting used to as we enter this new normal of living with Covid and managing our lives with Covid for the near future.”
Lambeth Council said it was “vital” that residents get a test, whether asymptomatic or not, to help control the spread of the virus.
Some 44 confirmed cases of the variant were found predominantly in the borough, as well as in neighbouring Wandsworth, with a further 30 probable cases identified, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
Commenting on surge testing, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said: “From a vaccine point of view the South African variant is of concern.
“We know from studies that none of the vaccines are as effective against the South African variant – though the vaccines still prevent against severe disease and death even with the South African variant.
“The problem is, they may not protect against infection which allows infection to transmit, and if we allow transmission through the community in large numbers with high infection rates then we could see other variants emerging.”