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A door-to-door Covid-19 testing blitz of 80,000 people in England is underway in eight areas in a bid to find “every single case” of the mutant South African strain.

Health officials have launched the extraordinary effort to stop the spread of the more infectious strain that experts fear could be more resistant to vaccines.

In England, 105 cases of the strain have been detected, and 11 cases of the variant identified over the past week were in people who had no links to travel, prompting concerns the mutation may be spreading in communities.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits are being deployed to eight postcode areas where the variant has been discovered as the UK Government looks to prevent it getting a foothold. There are about 10,000 people in each area.

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A woman swabs herself at a site testing for the South African Covid-19 variant in Hanwell, west London
(Image: Ben Cawthra/LNP)
People will be tested whether or not they are showing symptoms in a process known as “surge testing”.

Firefighters and police officers are assisting the effort.

Where is the testing blitz taking place? The eight postcode areas at the epicentre of the intensified testing programme are:

Hanwell, west London (W7) Tottenham, north London (N17) Mitcham, south London (CR4) Walsall in the West Midlands (WS2) Broxbourne, Hertfordshire (EN10) Maidstone, Kent (ME15) Woking, Surrey (GU21) Southport, Merseyside (PR9) West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said the one person detected with the South African strain in the West Midlands had acted in an “incredibly responsible” way.

Asked if they knew how the person got the virus, he told BBC Breakfast: “We can’t be certain where they got it from, we do know that the person was incredibly responsible, followed all of the advice impeccably actually. So, we hope that it has not been passed on.

“The purpose of this testing in the immediate area is to identify if there are any other cases there. So, it’s about rooting it out if it’s there.”

People are being tested in eight postcodes in England
(Image: Ben Cawthra/LNP)

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He said he hoped hotel quarantine would be bought in “as soon as possible”.

The coronavirus pandemic has reached a “very perilous stage”, a Government minister warned on Tuesday morning.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said it was essential people followed the rules following the disclosure that 11 cases of a new South African variant had been identified which were not linked to travel.

She warned people in the eight affected areas to “think again” before going out to buy food, medicine and other essential goods.

“It is still a very perilous stage of this virus. We have got this new variant that is spreading so we do have to be extra vigilant and really abide by those rules to the letter, and also contemplate every action and every activity that we do,” she told Sky News.

Ms Donelan rejected suggestions that the Government should have moved to close the borders to stop new variants reaching the UK.

“The Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) advice actually said that it would be probably ineffective to close the borders, which was the same advice that we got at the time from the World Health Organisation,” she said.

“We can obviously look back in hindsight with the information now but we didn’t have that information at the time. We always based our decisions on the best scientific and medical advice that we could get in this country.”

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said it may be possible for people to become infected with the South African variant even if they have had Covid-19 in the past.

Tests for the new variant are carried out in Maidstone, Kent
(Image: Stephen Lock/i-Images)

About 80,000 people will be tested in eight postcodes in England
(Image: Ben Cawthra/LNP)
She told BBC Breakfast: “That is something that is causing concern around the world.

“In Brazil where there is a different variant – which was badly hit in the first wave – there was a lot of reinfection there and that’s what also seems to potentially be the case with this variant in South Africa.

“South Africa is a country that has really struggled during this pandemic and we have had rates on reinfection there.

“If someone in the UK has been infected with Sars-CoV-2 and become unwell with Covid-19 in the past, it might be potentially, if they come into contact with this variant, they may become unwell again.

People queue to be tested for the mutant strain in Hanwell, west London
(Image: Ben Cawthra/LNP)

A police officer helps to load a box of home test kits into a van
(Image: REUTERS)
“That’s why it’s really important to do this surge testing and try and find the cases and support people to self-isolate.”

Professor Sir Mark Walport, former chief scientific adviser to the government, said he was “more worried” about the coronavirus variant which has emerged in South America over the one from South Africa.

He told Times Radio: “I’m concerned about the South African variant – it is more transmissible and the evidence is that the vaccine protects against it slightly less well – but the answer is that the current vaccine still work pretty well against this variant.

“The South African variant is an example of others that are cropping up around the world and the one I think we should be more worried about is the variant that’s emerged in South America.”

(Image: REUTERS)

The testing blitz is being carried out to halt the spread of the mutant strain
(Image: Ben Cawthra/LNP)
Public Health England (PHE) is studying whether those who have already had the vaccine could need a booster shot “a bit like the annual flu vaccine” to help protect them against Covid-19 mutations, such as the South Africa, Brazil and Kent variants.

The South African variant is thought to be as transmissible as the variant that was first identified in Kent but there is no evidence yet that it causes more severe disease.

Dr Susan Hopkins from Public Health England (PHE) said three different vaccines trialled so far had shown effectiveness against the South African variant at a level higher than the minimum standard set by the World Health Organisation and the US Food and Drug Administration.

“We expect all other vaccines to have a similar level of effectiveness, particularly in reducing hospitalisation and death,” she said, adding that laboratory studies were being carried out to provide further evidence.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press conference on Monday: “It’s a big effort getting this new variant … essentially finding every single case of it, that is the goal.”

Mr Hancock said the the door-to-door testing regime, along with enhanced contact tracing efforts, was an attempt to “come down on it hard”.

It was “absolutely vital” that people minimise all social contact in the areas where South African cases had been identified, he added.

The worry that the South Africa variant was spreading across England came as reports suggested scientists had recommended ministers should have gone harder with their border controls to stop new variants from entering the country.

People will be tested whether or not they are showing symptoms in a process known as “surge testing”
(Image: Ben Cawthra/LNP)

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The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), according to The Times, said only mandatory hotel quarantines for all arrivals or a total border shutdown would keep mutations at bay.

A week after the advice was reportedly given to the UK Government, the Prime Minister outlined his plan for travellers coming from 30 “red list” countries to face up to 10 days in hotel self-isolation, with no date yet set for when the rules will start to be enforced – proposals lighter than those pushed by Sage.

Mr Hancock is expected to update Parliament within days on plans around hotel quarantine.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called for the Home Office to “reverse this reckless policy of leaving our borders unlocked and open to further risk”.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits are being deployed to eight postcode areas
(Image: Ben Cawthra/LNP)
He said: “Ministers have knowingly left the UK border open and potentially exposed people to new strains of the virus, in direct contradiction of their own Government scientists’ advice.

“This puts the gains of the vaccine at risk, with disastrous consequences for people’s lives.

“The Home Secretary needs to come to Parliament urgently and reverse this reckless policy of leaving our Borders unlocked and open to further risk.”

In vaccine programme developments, Mr Hancock said almost nine in 10 of all those aged over 80 had been vaccinated, with over half of those in their 70s receiving a jab.

Data up to January 31 shows 9,296,367 first doses of the vaccine have been given, a rise of 319,038 in 24 hours.

The latest figures show that an average of 407,402 first doses of vaccine are needed each day in order to meet the Government’s target of 15 million first doses by February 15.