NEWS
13/04/2021 20:39 BST | Updated 13/04/2021 22:09 BST

Long Queues Form For Surge Testing In London After South African Variant Found

Lambeth Council said it is "vital" that residents get tested to help control the spread of the virus.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images
People take Covid-19 tests at a mobile coronavirus surge testing centre in south London.

Long queues have been formed after extra coronavirus testing facilities were set up in two south London boroughs as dozens of new cases of the South African variant were detected.

Some 44 confirmed cases of the variant have been found predominantly in Lambeth and neighbouring Wandsworth, with a further 30 probable cases identified, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through those areas are being urged to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, on top of using twice-weekly rapid testing.

Lambeth Council said eight additional testing sites have opened across the borough from Monday and facilities are also available in Wandsworth. 

Ministers are under pressure to tighten quarantine laws after the cluster of cases emerged.

Downing Street insisted the outbreak was being taken “very seriously” and “strong measures” had been put in place to prevent the spread of the variant.

But Labour said the development was “deeply concerning” because of concerns that vaccines could be less effective against variants.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to Priti Patel to call for a “comprehensive” hotel quarantine system.

DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS via Getty Images
People stand socially distanced as they queue to enter a mobile coronavirus surge testing centre in Brockwell Park in south London.

The BBC reported that the outbreak appears to have been triggered by an individual who travelled from Africa in February.

According to documents seen by the broadcaster, the country involved was not on the red list for mandatory hotel quarantine at that time, but is now.

In his letter to the home secretary, Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “Labour has consistently called for a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, to do everything possible to stop variants reaching the UK.

“However, the UK government has refused to act on these warnings and the prospects of further outbreaks remain incredibly concerning.

“Sadly the outbreak in south London is an example of what can occur when action is not taken.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “I think this is something that we are taking very seriously and the effective surge testing processes that we have in place have been working well here.

“We know that variants do pose a risk, it’s one of our four tests for the progression of the road map. But… we have strong measures in place to find and isolate any new cases.”

Victoria Jones - PA Images via Getty Images
Members of the public queue for the COVID-19 testing centre at St John's Church in Waterloo, south London. Surge testing has begun in the boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth in south London following the identification of a number of cases of a variant of the virus first found in South Africa. Picture date: Tuesday April 13, 2021. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he could not “see any reason” to deviate from the road map, which would see further lockdown restrictions lifted on May 17 in England.

For people who test positive, a “comprehensive” self-isolation support service is available which includes payments of up to £500 for residents on low incomes.

The DHSC said the operation is the “largest surge testing operation to date”, aimed at suppressing any possible new cases of the variant, with positive results from PCR testing to be sent for genomic sequencing at specialist labs.

It said all those who have tested positive for the variant, with the first case in the area being found in early March, are isolating or have completed their isolation, and their contacts have been traced and asked to isolate.

Director of public health for Lambeth, Ruth Hutt, said: “It is vital that all Lambeth residents take an asymptomatic PCR test so that we can identify all cases in order to stop the spread of this variant of concern.

“Alongside taking a PCR test, we are asking everyone who lives and works in the borough to continue following the guidance in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.

“That includes limiting your contacts with other people, washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, keeping your distance and covering your face.

“If you test positive for Covid-19 via a PCR test or rapid lateral flow test it is crucial that you self-isolate so you don’t pass on the virus, and support is available to help you do that.”