The UK’s plan to contain the South African Covid strain
Door-to-door testing to be rolled out in eight hotspots after cases with no link to travel detected
Up to 80,000 people are to be tested in a door-to-door “two-week sprint” to halt the spread of the South African coronavirus variant.
A briefing document seen by The Guardian said that Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered the mass testing campaign in “an attempt at eradication of the new variant if at all possible”, after cases were discovered in parts of London, the West Midlands and the East, Southeast and Northwest of England.
Hancock told a Downing Street news conference yesterday that the UK needed to “come down hard” on the strain, after random checks uncovered 11 cases with no links to travel.
According to the government’s website, the so-called surge testing will be rolled out in the following postcodes: London (W7, N17, CR4); West Midlands (WS2); East of England (EN10); Southeast (ME15, GU21); Northwest (PR9).
A PCR testing kit will be dropped off at eligible households for residents to self-administer before being picked up 60 minutes later.
Appealing for cooperation, Hancock said that “if you live in one of these postcodes where we are sending in enhanced testing then it is imperative that you stay at home and you get a test even if you don’t have symptoms.
“This is so important so that we can break the chains of transmission of this new variant.”
Travel by visitors to the UK from South African was banned in December amid growing fears over the new Covid strain, which is more transmissible than the original virus and appears to show a slightly “diminished” response to vaccines.
Along with the travel ban, the newly unveiled surge-testing plan is “likely to set the tone for the year to come, in which a return towards normal involves coming down hard on variants from around the world”, says The Times.
Containing the strain’s spread “may be easier said than done” though, warns HuffPost’s executive editor Paul Waugh. Testing is likely to pick up just 5% of cases, so the new door-to-door testing is in a “race against time to halt the spread”, he writes.
The emergence of the variant in the UK may rule out a return to the regional tiers system of Covid restrictions, with nationwide rules more likely to remain in place for some time.
“If you look at the way the new variant has taken off across the country, it’s a pretty national phenomenon,” Boris Johnson said during a visit yesterday to a vaccination centre in Batley, West Yorkshire.
“It may be that a national approach, going down the tiers in a national way, might be better this time round, given that the disease is behaving much more nationally.”