How will surge testing for the South African variant work?

Coronavirus testers are to travel door-to-door in areas of England in efforts to trace and curb the spread of the South African variant of Covid-19.

Eight areas of England will see additional surge testing measures as health officials hope to urgently test 80,000 people in areas where cases have been detected.

Here, the PA news agency looks at what the new regime will involve.

– Why has it been introduced?

Eleven cases of the variant have been identified over the last five or six days in people who have no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “we need to come down on it hard” as a policy of door-to-door testing and enhanced contact tracing was launched.

The UK has now identified a total of 105 cases of the South Africa variant.

– Where will the testing happen?

The surge testing will commence in eight postcode areas including three in the capital: Hanwell, west London (W7); Tottenham, north London (N17) and Mitcham, south London (CR4).

Walsall in the West Midlands (WS2); Broxbourne, Hertfordshire (EN10); Maidstone, Kent, (ME15); Woking, Surrey (GU21); and Southport, Merseyside (PR9), will also be part of the surge programme.

– How will it be carried out?

Each local authority has developed its own strategy for managing the surge testing, including opening new testing sites, sending out more home test kits and providing door-to-door testing.

Mobile testing units and additional home testing kits are being sent into the designated areas.

The Government is encouraging everyone over 16 living in the eight zones to take a test this week.

– What will happen to positive tests?

Experts from Public Health England (PHE) have previously been sequencing around 5% to 10% of all positive cases looking for variants.

However, positive tests in the eight areas in the programme will all be sequenced to identify any further spread of the South Africa variant.

Coronavirus – Mon Feb 1, 2021
Coronavirus – Mon Feb 1, 2021

– What do residents living in affected areas need to do?

The Government has said people with symptoms should book a test in the usual way, through the government website.

People without symptoms are directed to their local authority for information.

In Hertfordshire, residents of the EN10 area of Broxbourne can either book a test at one of two sites or collect a home testing kit for all members of the household.

The director of public health for Hertfordshire, Professor Jim McManus, said they would be starting door-to-door testing this week.

In Kent, door-to-door testing in the ME15 area will begin on Tuesday and residents will be visited by staff including from Kent Police, Maidstone Borough Council and Kent Fire and Rescue.

Coronavirus – Mon Feb 1, 2021
Coronavirus – Mon Feb 1, 2021

In Surrey, residents of selected parts of Woking in the GU21 postcode will be visited by a member of the council’s testing team who will leave enough kits for all members of a household aged 18 or over to carry out a test.

In Tottenham, in the borough of Haringey, teams will go door-to-door offering home testing kits and a mobile testing unit for people who do not have symptoms will also be set up.

Residents in Hanwell, Ealing, will be able to use a variant walkthrough testing centre and the council will also begin a door-to-door delivery of home test kits to all households.

In Mitcham, Merton, south London, thousands of extra tests will be available, with some delivered door-to-door in the affected area.

Households in Walsall, West Midlands, will be provided home test kits and testing units will be deployed offering testing to those living or working in the WS2 area.

In Southport, Merseyside, Sefton Council has said locally-led test kit door drops will be provided alongside existing testing.

Additional mobile testing units will also be supplied, which people without symptoms are asked to use.