UK rolls out ‘surge testing’ for South African Covid variant

London, February 1

People living in parts of Surrey in south-east England will be offered speedy coronavirus tests in an effort to track the South African variant of the deadly virus, the UK Government said on Monday.

The rollout of the so-called “surge testing” follows two people within the community with no travel history connecting them to South Africa testing positive for the highly transmissible variant.

Starting Monday, households in parts of Woking in Surrey, about 50 km from London, will have a COVID-19 PCR test posted through their letterbox and asked to take it – regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.

The free tests will then be collected by a team of officials later the same day, with the samples taken to a lab to test whether the new variant is detected. Testing will also be expanded to London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Walsall.

“This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further,” said Ruth Hutchinson, Director of Public Health for Surrey.

“It’s really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don’t need to worry,” she said.

The South African variant, known as VOC-202012/02, is highly transmissible like the UK mutation discovered in Kent, south-east England, at the end of last year.

Experts have said that there was no evidence to show that it is resistant to the vaccines being rolled out against COVID-19 but it is important that its spread is tracked and controlled.

“I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant,” said Dr Alison Barnett, regional director at Public Health England (PHE) South East.

A total of 105 cases of the South Africa variant have been found to date in the UK, all connected to travel from the region. However, the worrying detection of two cases within the community with no travel links to the region through PHE’s random checks has prompted the surge testing action.

Meanwhile, during a visit to a vaccine hub in West Yorkshire, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to allay fears around the new variant being vaccine-proof.

“We are confident that all the vaccines that we are using provide a high degree of immunity and protection against all variants,” he said.

“The fact is we are going to be living with Covid for a while to come in one way or another, I don’t think it will be as bad as the last 12 months – or anything like – of course, but it’s very, very important that our vaccines continue to develop and to adapt, and they will,” he said.

The UK remains under strict lockdown conditions as it continues to try and control the high coronavirus infection rate within the community. The government has been accelerating its vaccine rollout programme with the aim of gradually lifting the lockdown restrictions from next month. PTI

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