'Surge testing' arrives in Bristol to track mutated Covid variant

The so-called 'surge testing' is in response to the detection of the mutated Kent variant in Bristol.

A major testing programme is being introduced to people living in several postcodes of Bristol and South Gloucestershire to try and trace cases of the mutated Covid-19 variant.

The "surge testing" was announced by health authorities on Saturday (6 February), four days after mutations were detected in Bristol.

On Wednesday (3 February), Bristol City Council said the city did not need extra testing, but now the major testing programme has been launched.

Today (Sunday 7 February) three new mobile testing centres are opening for people living in the targeted postcodes who do not have any coronavirus symptoms.

They are:

  • Science Park, Driac Crescent, Emersons Green, BS16 7FR

  • Bristol City Council Rapid Testing Centre, 17-18 Wellington Road, BS2 9DA

  • Imperial Retail Park, Hartcliffe Way, BS13 7TJ

The new strain was initially identified in 11 people in the city.

In response, both the Government and Bristol City Council said the individuals were tracked down and told to isolate along with any people they had contact with.

Health officials confirmed they are confident that the vaccines currently being offered across the UK will still be able to help combat this new strain, although it is not yet known if they are as effective as they are on other strains.

Christina Gray, Director of Public Health at Bristol City Council, and Sara Blackmore, Director of Public Health at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “We are in constant communication with local and regional health partners and the Department for Health and Social Care, working together to put in place all appropriate steps to reduce the local rate of infection and identify and stem the spread of this particular mutation as quickly as possible.

“We are working together on a swift, safe and co-ordinated response, with an enhanced community testing offer available to people in and around areas where this variant has been discovered.

"This will be in addition to ongoing availability of testing if you have symptoms (please book through the national system) and regular rapid testing for essential workers. This additional action will enable closer monitoring and work to reduce further transmission of the virus.

“We expect the number of identified cases of the mutated Kent variant to increase as a greater scientific focus is put on actively searching for it.

“Whilst we know the Kent variant is more transmissible the advice remains the same to everyone. Behave as if you are carrying the virus, stay in and only leave the home if you must.

"Do not mix socially outside of your household and continue to observe public health guidance – hands, face, space. If you are invited to receive a vaccine, please do so."

New mobile testing centre at Imperial Park, Hartcliffe Way. Credit: ITV News

Postcodes being offered the testing:

  • BS1 3

  • BS2 0

  • BS2 8

  • BS2 9

  • BS3 5

  • BS4 4

  • BS5 6

  • BS5 7

  • BS6 5

  • BS8 2

  • BS9 4

  • BS5 0

  • BS6 6

  • BS14 9

  • BS16 1

  • BS16 2

  • BS16 3

  • BS16 5

  • BS16 6

  • BS16 7

  • BS16 9

  • BS37 8

  • BS8 3 & BS14 0 (only within Bristol City Council boundary)

Analysis from ITV West Country Political Correspondent David Wood

It is in the nature of viruses to mutate, so it does not come as a surprise that there is a new variant in the city, but what concerns scientists and ministers is whether the vaccines will become less effective as the strains mutate. This is why ministers have introduced extra testing in areas of greater concern.

There has been confusion and some anger amongst politicians about the handling of the announcement about the mutation in Bristol this week.

On Tuesday (2 February) Matt Hancock told MPs extra testing was coming to Bristol. By the following day that extra testing was being denied at a press conference with the city's Mayor Marvin Rees and the council's Director of Public Health.

On Thursday (4 February) Bristol South's Labour MP Karin Smyth was asking senior Government Ministers about the confusion and asking why the local authorities had not been told about the announcement being made earlier that week by Mr Hancock.

There will be questions about the delay to the rollout and whether that delay means the Bristol mutation has spread further.

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