Two people in Surrey with no links to South Africa have been found to have the country’s more infectious strain of coronavirus, the local council has said.
A “surge testing” programme has now been rolled out in the county in response.
Neither individual in the Goldworth Park or St Johns areas, where the cases were picked up, had travelled to South Africa, or had been linked to any previous cases of the variant.
Public Health England (PHE) and the Department of Health and Social Care are working with the Surrey Local Resilience Forum (SLRF) to monitor the situation. The SLRF is a multi-agency partnership made up of representatives from local public services to respond to emergencies.
It means people who live in the affected area will be visited door-to-door and asked to carry out a Covid-19 test whether they have symptoms or not.
It is feared that the South African strain of the virus is more transmissible than the original strain, though Dr Susan Hopkins, Covid-19 strategic response director at PHE, says variants are not jab-resistant.
Ruth Hutchinson, Surrey’s director of public health, said: “This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find [through testing], the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further. By playing your part and taking the test, you’ll be helping to keep your community and your loved ones safe.
“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.”
Nine other cases of the South African variant have been found in England, leading to surge testing of around 80,000 people in the London, Walsall, Broxbourne, Maidstone, Guildford and Preston areas.
These cases have been discovered in people who hadn’t travelled to the country, suggesting community spread might have started. In total there have been 105 people who have been found to have the South African variant, though in most people who have arrived from the country.
Prime minister Boris Johnson told reporters on Monday: “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 vaccines could be adapted to deal with new variants if necessary.
“The fact is we are going to be living with Covid for a while to come in one way or another,” he added. “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.”
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the news was “deeply worrying” and highlighted Labour’s motion to secure the country’s borders, which takes place on Monday.
The party is calling for the government to introduce a comprehensive hotel quarantine plan to protect against the risk of new variants being imported into the country.