Two people in the south of England have tested positive for the South African variant of the CCP virus—the first such cases with no identified links to travel from the country.
The discovery in Surrey sparked the rollout of local “surge testing” of thousands of people as local authorities try to stem the spread of the more transmissible variant.
“Residents in the affected areas, and across Woking, should remain calm and continue to follow the national restrictions that are currently in place,” Surrey County Council said in a statement.
“This follows notification that a specific variant of COVID-19 has been identified from two positive tests in the area, in residents who have no links to travel or previous variant cases. The variant is known as the SARS-CoV-2 variant (also known as VOC-202012/02) which originated in South Africa.”
The free tests, posted through residents’ letterboxes, will be collected by a team of officials later the same day, before being sent to labs.
Ruth Hutchinson, director of Public Health for Surrey, said that it was a precautionary measure.
“The more cases of the variant we find, 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,” she said in a statement.
“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.”
The surge testing is expected to extend into neighboring regions in the coming days. People don’t need to self-isolate unless they test positive.
The Health Secretary last week said that all of the cases of the new variant of the CCP virus at that time had been traced back to travel from South Africa.
A total of 105 cases of the variant have previously been identified, according to Sky News.
The fact that the new cases can’t be traced back to South Africa suggests that the variant could have started to circulate in the UK, and will be harder to keep under control.
According to the statement from the council, there is also no evidence “that the regulated vaccine would not protect against” the South African variant.
While recent studies of some vaccines do suggest that they are effective against the South African variant, the potency appears lower than against other 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 an effectiveness of around 60 percent.
“The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Surrey[.] I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant,” Dr. Alison Barnett, regional director at Public Health England South East, said in a statement.