The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has said it is using a surge testing system in two areas of south London this week after it was found to have a “significant” cluster of the faster-spreading South African variant of Covid-19.
The NHS Test and Trace said it is providing additional testing and genomic sequencing across parts of Wandsworth and Lambeth, where 44 confirmed and 30 probable cases of the variant first identified in South Africa have been found.
All identified cases are isolating or have completed their isolation, and their contacts have been traced and asked to isolate. The first case of the variant in the area was said to have been identified in early March.
“The cluster of cases of the variant first identified in South Africa found in parts of South London, predominantly the Lambeth and Wandsworth areas is significant. It’s really important people in the local area play their part in stopping any further spread within the local community,” Susan Hopkins, Chief Medical Adviser for NHS Test and Trace, said on Monday.
Under the surge testing system, everybody aged 11 years and over who resides in, works in, or travels through the affected boroughs of south London is “strongly encouraged” to take a Covid-19 PCR test, whether they are showing symptoms or not.
“PCR testing is now available for all and I would strongly encourage everyone, whether they live, work or travel through the boroughs, to get tested even if they don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus,” Hopkins said.
“Around 1 in 3 people with Covid-19 don’t show any symptoms. By taking part you can protect yourselves and your loved ones and help us identify any possible new cases that would otherwise be missed, preventing further transmission and saving lives,” she said.
The NHS described it as the largest surge testing operation to date and aims to help control and suppress any possible new cases of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa.
Enhanced contact tracing is used for individuals testing positive with a variant of concern, where contact tracers look back over an extended period in order to determine the route of transmission.
“By using PCR testing, positive results can be sent for genomic sequencing at specialist laboratories, helping us to identify variants of concern cases and their spread in these boroughs. People in Lambeth and Wandsworth should continue using twice-weekly rapid testing alongside the PCR test as part of surge testing,” the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
People with symptoms are being asked to book a free test online or by phone so they can get tested at a testing site or have a testing kit sent to them at home. Those without symptoms can access a test through their local authority website.
The surge tests come as England entered Stage 2 of its lockdown easing roadmap on Monday, which allows for greater outdoor activity in pubs and restaurants.
Gyms and hairdressers are also able to operate again under social distancing norms. However, restrictions remain in place on all other indoor activities and different households mixing until at least May 17.