Government ministers have warned people living in areas infected with the South African coronavirus variant to “think again” before leaving the house, as door-to-door testing launches in London hotspots.
Residents in the London boroughs of Ealing, Haringey and Croydon will receive knocks on the door from today asking them to take Covid tests for the new South African variant.
Around 80,000 people in other areas around the country including Guildford, Maidstone, Walsall, Preston, Mitcham, Woking and Broxbourne will also be part of the surge testing plans.
It comes after a “small number” of people were found last week to be infected with the new mutation despite having no travel links.
Gene sequencing has so far found 105 cases of the variant, with 11 infections unlinked to foreign travel, prompting concerns the South African variant is now spreading in the community across the UK.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the government was adamant in its goal of “finding every case”, amid concerns the new mutation could apply extra pressure to the NHS.
It is thought the South African variant could be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original variant.
Speaking to Sky News this morning, government minister Michelle Donelan described the UK as at a “perilous” stage of the pandemic, as she urged people in infected areas to stay at home.
“The message is ‘think again’ just before you go about activities, even for those activities that are within the rules such as essential shopping.”
“Do you really need to go for that shopping or have you got enough in? Could you work from home? Could you have that conversation with your employer? It’s about reinforcing the rules that are in place,” she added.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief epidemiologist at Public Health England, warned that existing vaccines may offer less protection against the South African variant, although they still offer a good level of immunity.
US biotech firm Moderna last week said it was trialling a new vaccine for the South African variant, after studies showed its current Covid vaccine was six times less effective against the new strain.
The Prime Minister last week introduced hotel quarantine measures for arrivals to the UK from 30 “high-risk” countries, in an attempt to block potentially “vaccine-busting” new strains reaching Britain’s shores.
However, scientists have warned that hotel quarantine measures may not go far enough, suggesting the UK may need a full closure of its borders to stop the spread of new Covid mutations.
“No intervention, other than a complete, pre-emptive closure of borders, or the mandatory quarantine of all visitors upon arrival in designated facilities, irrespective of testing history, can get close to fully preventing the importation of new cases or new variants,” minutes from a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting said.