Extra coronavirus testing will be carried out in Lambeth following confirmed cases of the South African Covid variant in the south London neighbourhood.
Surge testing and genomic sequencing will be carried out in the SE27 0, SE27 9 and SW16 2 postcodes in Lambeth.
People living within the targeted areas are strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test this week whether they are showing symptoms or not, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said in a statement.
DHSC added that surge testing in Woking which began last week is now complete and further data on surge testing will be provided in due course.
It comes after the government’s virus threats advisory group has classified a new Covid mutation first identified in Bristol a “variant of concern”.
The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) has said the Bristol variant — which was first discovered last week, and is a mutated version of the Kent strain — could interfere with the vaccine.
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There have so far been 14 confirmed cases of the variant in Bristol, four in Manchester and three other scattered cases.
The new strain has the E484K mutation also identified in the South African and Brazilian versions of coronavirus, which scientists are concerned may prove partially resistant to vaccines.
A new study released yesterday showed the new E484K mutation seen in the South African variant may prove resistant to the Astrazeneca vaccine, prompting the health secretary to announced that Covid vaccines may have to become “routine” in the same way flu jabs are administered every year.
However, Nervtag said those who have already received the coronavirus vaccine will be protected against severe illness from the Bristol variant.
Officials are also tracking two “variants under investigation”, including a strain first identified in Liverpool.
None of the above strains are currently dominant in the UK, with Britain’s only “immediate threat” remaining the Kent B117 variant, deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said yesterday.
Van-Tam said there was “no reason to believe” mutant strains including the South Africa variant would become dominant in the UK.
“If you read the headlines and you feel a bit panicky please try and be reassured that the better watchwords are ‘concern’… ‘vigilance’ and ‘preparation,’” he added. “There is a lot going on behind the scenes that will become clearer over time.”
Astrazeneca last week said it aims to produce a “next generation” Covid-19 vaccine especially suited to new mutations as soon as the autumn.
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Mene Pangalos, a senior research chief at the British-Swedish firm, said Astrazeneca will start developing a new vaccine for the mutated strains and will look to make them public “as rapidly as possible”.
The government on Friday signed a deal with German biotech firm CureVac for 50m doses of a new vaccine being developed to tackle emerging Covid mutations.