Door-to-door “surge testing” for the CCP virus is to be carried out in eight local areas in England after several cases of the South Africa variant emerged that could not be traced to travel from the country.
Those cases are the first in the UK of community transmission of the variant, which is more transmissible and is thought to be more resistant to some vaccines.
Surrey Council earlier announced it was introducing surge testing after the emergence of two cases.
The Department of Health and Social Care later confirmed that other cases had emerged in London, Walsall in the West Midlands, Hertfordshire, Essex, near Maidstone in Kent, and near Preston in Lancashire.
“Every person over 16 living in these locations is strongly encouraged to take a Covid test this week, whether they are showing symptoms or not,” said the Department of Health in a statement to the Epoch Times. “Mobile Testing Units (MTUs) will be deployed offering PCR testing to people without symptoms who have to leave their home for work or essential reasons, with local authorities encouraging people to get tested in the area by providing additional home test kits.”
All previous 105 cases of the variant in the UK all been traced back to South Africa.
Public Health England said that it had picked up new cases through ongoing proactive sequencing in the UK.
“A small proportion of these cases have no link to international travel suggesting that there are some cases in the community,” said Dr. Susan Hopkins, Strategic Response Director to Public Health England and Chief Medical Advisor for NHS Test and Trace. “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.”
Public Health England said that there is no evidence that the South Africa variant is more harmful or serious.
Dr. Andrew Page, Head of Informatics at Quadram Institute, said, “This variant is thought to be more infectious, but not more lethal. The Novavax trial indicates that their vaccine is less effective against this variant.”
“Through ‘surge testing’ it is hoped to identify as many cases as possible, rapidly sequence them, and halt the community transmission whilst the outbreak is still small and in one geographical area,” said Page in a statement.
According to Rowland Kao, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science at University of Edinburgh, the lack of travel links suggests evidence of local transmission. “As only 5 percent of cases are tested to determine if they are the variant, there is a high probability that further local cases are in circulation—making it more difficult that the spread of the variant can be contained,” he said.
Public Health England said that is currently no evidence to suggest that the regulated vaccine would not protect against the new variant.
However, several studies do suggest vaccines are less effective against the strain and that it would reduce antibody therapy efficacy, compared with the regular variants.
Novavax recently announced that initial trials showed its vaccine was 89 percent effective in the UK, where the more transmissible strain originating in Kent is now predominant. A less extensive trial in South Africa—where the VOC-202012/02 variant is dominant—suggested effectiveness of around 60 percent.
The Department of Health said that enhanced testing and sequencing will be targeted within the following specific postcode areas: London (W7, N17, CR4); West Midlands (WS2); East of England (EN10); South East (ME15, GU21); North West (PR9).
As well as monitoring and suppressing the spread, the government hopes that the surge testing will also provide a clearer understanding of the strain.