Around 80,000 people in England are to receive door-to-door Covid testing after the discovery of 11 cases of the South African coronavirus variant in people who hadn’t travelled to the country.
The “surge” testing provided by mobile laboratories and local public health staff will cover eight different local areas covering parts of London, Walsall, Broxbourne, Maidstone, Woking and Southport.
The individual postcodes cover Ealing, Tottenham and Mitcham in London (W7, N17, CR4); in Walsall (WS2); Broxbourne in Hertfordshire (EN10); Woking in Surrey (GU21); Maidstone in Kent (ME15); and Preston in Lancashire (PR9).
Residents, including those without any symptoms, will be asked to take a so-called PCR test and the results will then be swiftly turned around.
Everyone over 16 living in these locations will be “strongly encouraged” to take a Covid test this week, whether they are showing symptoms or not.
Mobile testing units will be deployed offering PCR testing to people without symptoms who have to leave their home for work or essential reasons.
Public health officials estimate that each of the 8 areas has an average of 10,000 residents.
Although the South African variant is not more deadly than the UK variant, it is highly transmissible and Public Health England is keen to contain its spread much quicker than it did the Kent variant.
It revealed that in total there have been 105 people who have been found to have the South African variant, with the vast majority in people who have arrived from the country.
But it has also found 11 cases in the past six days that do not have any links to travel, suggesting community spread has started.
Dr Susan Hopkins, strategic response director for Public Health England, said: “As part of our proactive sequencing work, we know that the new variant of Covid-19, first detected in South Africa, has been identified in a number of areas across England.
“A small proportion of these cases have no link to international travel suggesting that there are some cases in the community.
“In response to this, we are ramping up testing in targeted areas, so we can gather more information and effectively monitor any further community transmission.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is vital that we do all we can to stop transmission of this variant and I strongly urge everyone in these areas to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not.
“The best way to stop the spread of the virus – including new variants - is to stay at home and follow the restrictions in place. Until more people are vaccinated this is the only way we will control the spread of the virus.”
Travel bans are already in place for countries where there is a risk of known variants such as the South African one.
The Home Office is also set to introduce in coming weeks “managed isolation” in hotels for those who cannot be refused entry arriving from countries with international travel bans.