Yesterday, it was announced that the South African variant of Covid-19 had been identified in community transmissions within the UK and could be spreading. While the nation has been battling the Kent strain of the virus, it was hoped strict border controls and other measures would eliminate the risk of the South African one entering the country.
However, eight areas in the UK were identified as having cases of the South African variant. On-the-spot doorstep testing is now happening in those areas. There are fears the variant will quickly spread in the affected communities and beyond. This has prompted government ministers to urge those in areas being tested for the South African strain to stay at home.
Coming down hard on the South African strain
Several areas have been identified as requiring what is being described as 'surge testing' to clamp down on the spread of the variant. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said that he is determined to 'come down hard' on the variant of the virus.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said people living in the areas affected should be thinking twice about leaving their homes. She said they should limit the amount of time spent outside of their homes even more than before to stop the South African strain ripping through communities.
While the whole country is currently in lockdown with people being urged to stay at home, Donelan indicated it is particularly vital for those in affected areas to do this. Hancock also said it was crucial for those in these areas to minimise all social contact and find ways to work from home.
Hancock also said the government's goal was to find all cases of the South African strain by carrying out surge testing in the targeted areas. Everyone over the age of 16 is advised to take a test even if they have no symptoms.
Which areas are affected?
Several areas have been identified as being affected by the variant. Worryingly, not all cases are linked to foreign travel. In total, 105 cases have been picked up out of which 11 have no ties to foreign travel. Ministers fear this means it has already started to spread. Like the Kent strain, it is thought to be far more contagious than the original virus. In addition, there are concerns that the various Covid-19 vaccines being used at present may not be as effective against this strain of the virus.
The areas affected include parts of the South East, East of England, North West, London, and the West Midlands. Affected postcode areas include ME15, WS2, CR4, GU21, W7, N17, EN10, and PR9.
In most of these areas, home testing kits are being dropped off and collected, although some are also offering mobile testing. It has also been announced that council employees, police officers, and firefighters will be joining the effort by carrying out testing on the spot at homes in Kent.