What's happened in the six days since Matt Hancock revealed Bristol Covid mutation

Testing staff hand out kits to motorists attending a surge testing centre in Emersons Green. Credit: PA

Almost a week after a new strain of Covid-19 identified in Bristol was announced, so-called 'surge testing' has now started in 24 postcodes in the city and in a small part of South Gloucestershire.

Last week was full of confusion about what people in the city should do, now though, there is certainty as three mobile testing centres have been set up and more places to pick up tests will be announced soon.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the new strain linked to 11 cases in Bristol in the House of Commons on Tuesday 2 February.

He said the people affected were self-isolating and 'enhanced contact tracing' had started to identify contacts of those infected and to attempt to track backwards to see where they had picked up the virus from.

Mr Hancock told MPs there had been cooperation between ministers and Bristol's council and said surge testing would be rolled out and urged people who had to leave their homes for work to get a test even if they were asymptomatic.

Matt Hancock urges people to take the vaccine. Credit: Downing Street/PA

However, that night and in a press conference with the Mayor of Bristol on Wednesday 3 February, people in the city were told not to be worried about the strain and that there were no plans for increasing testing.

Although at the same time the Head of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Dido Harding, told MPs testing was being sorted and rolled out in the city.

On Thursday the Bristol South MP, Karin Smyth, tried to sort out some of the confusion during a session of MPs who're investigating the Government's communication strategy during the pandemic.

She questioned two senior ministers and a senior official in the Cabinet Office about what was going on with the Bristol strain.

Ministers were asked why Bristol City Council was not aware Matt Hancock was going to make the announcement two days earlier. Those questioned said they didn't have knowledge of what happened around the Bristol announcement, but said that sometimes announcements need to be made quickly and pre-warning some relevant councils isn't always possible.

It wasn't until 6.30pm on Saturday 6 February that both Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils announced 'surge testing' would start from the following day.

People in the affected postcodes are being urged to get tested as health officials and ministers look to clamp down on the spread of the Bristol variant.

Scientists will be analysing the strain as you read this and will be trying to work out how transmissible it is and how effective current vaccines will be against it.

Scientists are confident the vaccines being rolled out now will still have an effect on preventing severe illness and deaths in people who have the strain. It is totally normal for viruses to mutate and scientists are already tweaking existing vaccines to make sure they're effective against any new strains.


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