Medical professional performing a Covid test on an elderly patient

What is surge testing? How the UK aims to combat Covid-19 variants

After the discovery of cases of the South Africa Covid-19 variant strain, in patients with no clear links to international travel, the UK Government has greenlit the deployment of additional surge testing and sequencing in the affected areas.

Alongside current guidance around social distancing and personal hygiene, the testing will help identify cases of the virus and, through isolation of those infected, suppress the spread of the virus.

Increased sequencing will also enable a greater understanding of the South African variant strain.

At present, it is not believed that the variant causes any greater rate of mortality among patients, though it is believed to be more virulent.

Government, health and local authority organisations in the affected areas will be working in partnership to deliver the enhanced testing and sequencing within targeted postcode areas, as well as ensuring dedicated and rapid contact tracing measures are in place for when a positive case of the variant strain is identified.

The postcodes currently under additional Covid-19 surveillance are:

  • East of England (EN10)
  • London (W7, N17, CR4)
  • North West (PR9)
  • South East (ME15, GU21)
  • West Midlands (WS2)

In these areas, every person over the age of 16 is being strongly advised to take a Covid-19 test this week, whether symptomatic or not.

To support the dramatically increased need in these areas, mobile testing units (MTUs) are being deployed to offer PCR testing to people without symptoms who have to leave their home for work or essential reasons, while local authorities are encouraging people in the areas affected to get tested by providing additional home testing kits.

People in these regions with symptoms should book a test in the usual way, while asymptomatic people should visit their local authority website for more information on securing a test.

So far, Public Health England has identified 105 cases of the South Africa variant of Covid-19; named as such due to it first being identified in the country, as oppose to any specific geographical relation.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is vital that we do all we can to stop transmission of this variant and I strongly urge everyone in these areas to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not.

“The best way to stop the spread of the virus – including new variants – is to stay at home and follow the restrictions in place.

“Until more people are vaccinated this is the only way we will control the spread of the virus.

“The UK is a global leader in Covid-19 genomics, and because of this, we have been able to identify new strains of the virus and take decisive action.

“We continue to closely monitor new variants, here and around the world, and in addition to our already extensive testing service, we are making surge testing capacity available to affected areas.”

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