Worcestershire covid: Door-to-door ‘surge testing’ for South African coronavirus variant spreads

WHERE IS DOOR-TO-DOOR TESTING BEING OFFERED?

London

W7: Hanwell (South African variant)

N17: Tottenham (South African variant)

CR4: Mitcham (South African variant)

West Midlands

WS2: Walsall (South African variant)

WR3: Worcestershire (South African variant) 

WR9: Worcestershire (South African variant) 

East of England

EN10: Broxbourne (South African variant)

South East 

ME15: Maidstone (South African variant)

GU21: Woking (South African variant)

North West

PR9: Southport (South African variant)

Liverpool (Original variant with E484K mutation)

South West

Bristol (Kent variant with E484K mutation)

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Worcestershire today became the latest area to start ‘surge testing’ after the South African coronavirus variant was detected.

Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode and parts of the WR9 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified. 

It comes as a million people in the North West of England have been told to take a Covid test if they have a runny nose, as part of a clampdown on a mutated virus detected in the region. 

A mobile testing unit has been set up at The White Hart pub in Fernhill Heath, near Worcester, for adults with no symptoms living within walking distance, a drive-through testing site will open and door-to-door testing will be rolled out. 

Worcestershire County Council said: ‘Working in partnership with NHS Test and Trace, every person over the age of 18, living in the WR3 postcode and some WR9 postcodes, is strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test this week, even if they are not showing symptoms.’ 

Meanwhile, residents in the Liverpool city region, Preston and Lancashire have been urged by health bosses to get swabbed if they have even the slightest suspicion they are ill. 

It comes after more than 40 cases of an altered strain of the original virus, which carries a mutation experts fear makes vaccines less potent, was spotted in the three areas. 

Meanwhile, all passengers arriving in Britain from countries not on the Covid hotspot list could have to take four tests during their isolation period. 

In another significant toughening of border policy, travellers from safer countries will be told they must take the PCR tests during the standard ten-day home quarantine period.

While SAGE warned only mandatory hotel quarantine for all UK travellers would ‘come close’ to to stop new strains entering the country, it has emerged.

On the Worcestershire outbreak Dr Kathryn Cobain, director for public health in the county, said: ‘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.’

Despite the frantic bid to try and stop the mutated variants spreading in Britain, scientists have warned the cases identified so far are likely just the ‘tip of the iceberg’. 

In other coronavirus news:

  • Britain recorded another 19,114 cases and 1,014 deaths from Covid yesterday and delivered another 500,000 Covid vaccine doses;
  • Tory backbenchers renewed calls for lockdown restrictions to be abandoned when the UK vaccinates all over-50s, which ministers are targeting by May ; 
  • The coronavirus R rate in England was confirmed to be below one for the first time since July, the first time in six months Government scientists have been certain the outbreak is shrinking; 
  • Ministers have defended ‘quarantine hotel’ plans not being up and running until February 15 saying they take ‘time to prepare’; 
  • The government is working on vaccine passports to save summer holidays with Greece thought to be ready to waive restrictions if people can prove they have received jabs; 
  • Covid-19 vaccines being rolled out across the UK are safe, with the ‘overwhelming majority’ of suspected side-effects being mild, a regulator has said; 
  • The average daily vaccination rate has risen to 430,532 in the last seven days, equal to more than three million jabs a week.
Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified. Pictured, a distributor speaking to a resident in Woking this week

Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified. Pictured, a distributor speaking to a resident in Woking this week

Worcestershire County Council has set up surge testing in the WR3 postcode after cases of the variant with no links to international travel were identified. Pictured, a distributor speaking to a resident in Woking this week

A mobile testing unit has been set up at The White Hart pub (pictured) in Fernhill Heath, near Worcester, for adults with no symptoms living within walking distance, a drive-through testing site will open and door-to-door testing will be rolled out

A mobile testing unit has been set up at The White Hart pub (pictured) in Fernhill Heath, near Worcester, for adults with no symptoms living within walking distance, a drive-through testing site will open and door-to-door testing will be rolled out

A mobile testing unit has been set up at The White Hart pub (pictured) in Fernhill Heath, near Worcester, for adults with no symptoms living within walking distance, a drive-through testing site will open and door-to-door testing will be rolled out

Door-to-door and mobile testing began in Britain at the start of the month as part of urgent efforts to swab 80,000 people. This came after 11 cases of the variant were identified in people who had no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.

Any positive results as part of surge testing programmes will be sent for genome sequencing to identify the variant – a process which usually takes around a fortnight. 

The alteration, scientifically known as E484K, is also found on the South African and Brazilian variants which have led to Britain toughening up its border controls.

Even though the mutation does not specifically cause any different symptoms to the original strain, officials are broadening the criteria for a swab as a safety net to snuff out cases that would normally go undetected.

Police officers and other emergency services go door-to-door to collect Covid-19 tests from residents homes on February 3 in Maidstone

Police officers and other emergency services go door-to-door to collect Covid-19 tests from residents homes on February 3 in Maidstone

Police officers and other emergency services go door-to-door to collect Covid-19 tests from residents homes on February 3 in Maidstone

A million people in the North West of England have been told to take a Covid test if they have a runny nose, as part of a clampdown on a mutated virus detected in the region

A million people in the North West of England have been told to take a Covid test if they have a runny nose, as part of a clampdown on a mutated virus detected in the region

A million people in the North West of England have been told to take a Covid test if they have a runny nose, as part of a clampdown on a mutated virus detected in the region

The wider range of symptoms includes shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, a sore throat, congestion or a runny nose, and nausea or vomiting.  

Public Health England said the most recent tests rolled out in a number of areas of the country this week will be prioritised in a bid to speed up the process.

Liverpool and Warrington find cases of mutation known as E484K

Public Health England has identified cases of the original virus strain with the mutation, scientifically known as E484K, in the Liverpool City Region and Warrington. 

The mutation has also been found in Preston and West Lancashire, according to health officials.

The E484K mutation – also found in the South African and Brazilian variants – appears to boost the virus’s ability to avoid the immune system, raising the risk of reinfections or the current crop of vaccines being less effective.

It has appeared separately in cases of both the Kent variant and on the original version of the virus. 

Neither are yet being described as new variants but represent physical differences to the virus that could change how it behaves.

It comes after 32 people in Liverpool have also been struck down with the original strain of the virus with the E484K mutation. MailOnline understands the cases were spotted three weeks ago.

A cluster of an initial five cases was detected on January 10 among staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital who had attended an event outside the hospital, believed to be a funeral. 

Warrington Council have said they will get behind enhanced contact tracing in the town. 

Thara Raj, Warrington’s director of public health, explained how ‘some residents may be concerned’ but added it shouldn’t ‘cause any further alarm’. 

Ms Raj added: ‘We are monitoring the situation closely and all necessary public health interventions are being undertaken.’ 

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health and wellbeing at Lancashire County Council, said: ‘If you live in Preston or West Lancashire and you’re feeling under the weather, please get a Covid test. 

‘Understandably, some residents may be concerned but all viruses mutate over time so this should not cause any further alarm.  

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Testing of around 10,000 people in Maidstone, Kent, was completed on Thursday night.

In Surrey, testing in Woking was expected to finish on Friday with door-to-door deliveries in Egham and Thorpe due to begin on Saturday.

Sefton Council said efforts to identify the variant in the Norwood area of Southport in Merseyside would continue into the weekend.

Testing in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, is being rolled out for another week until February 12, the council said.

Around 10,300 people in Walsall have been tested so far and some 560 tests had been conducted in the affected areas in Birmingham, the West Midlands Combined Authority was told.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits were also deployed this week to Hanwell, west London and Mitcham, south London.

Testing will also continue into next week in Tottenham, north London. 

Matthew Ashton, director of public health for Liverpool, told the i newspaper: ‘We are concerned that people may not think they have Covid because they are not displaying the classic symptoms and, as a result, could be unwittingly spreading the infection to others.

‘The virus is changing all the time, so it is essential that we redouble our efforts so we stay one step ahead of it, and we know some people have been testing positive with other symptoms.’ 

Around 40 cases of the original strain of Covid carrying the E484K mutation were spotted in Liverpool, Warrington and Lancashire.

In another twist to the UK’s Covid crisis, officials have also spotted 11 strains of the Kent variant which have that mutation, suggesting it is also evolving again. 

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health and wellbeing at Lancashire County Council, added: ‘If you live in Preston or West Lancashire and you’re feeling under the weather, please get a Covid test.

‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the three classic symptoms of a fever, loss of taste or smell, or a cough – even a headache could be an indication you may have this mutation.

‘Understandably, some residents may be concerned but all viruses mutate over time so this should not cause any further alarm.

‘Alongside our partners, please rest assured that we are monitoring the situation closely.

‘It is important to stress that there is currently no evidence that this mutation alone causes more severe illness or is more transmissible.

‘The best way to control the spread is for everyone to continue to abide by the lockdown rules and following the simple steps of washing your hands, using a face covering and making space from each other.

‘While Covid has been here for a while now, these new variants remind us that we all need to keep doing what we can to stay safe and avoid spreading Covid to each other.’

The variant discovered in the North West is said to be less concerning because it is an altered version of the original strain so is less transmissible than the Kent one.

Officials are more worried about the mutated variant in Bristol because it poses a double threat – it is the Kent strain and therefore more transmissible but also carries the E484K mutation which opens the door to it being vaccine resistant.

Neither are yet being described as new variants but represent physical differences to the virus that could change how it behaves. 

Kent Covid variant has started to mutate further to become more like South African strain

The Kent Covid variant has started to mutate further to become more like the one that evolved in South Africa in what scientists have dubbed a ‘worrying development’ that could make vaccines less effective.

One of the key mutations on the South African and Brazilian variants appear to make the virus more able to resist immunity that has been developed by past infection or from the current vaccines.

And this mutation has now been found at least 11 times in different cases of people infected with the Kent variant, Public Health England revealed, raising fears it could become a permanent feature of the British strain.

Both the Kent and South African variants already share one mutation, named N501Y, which makes the virus spread faster. And if this mutation, named E484K, sticks around as well the variants could become extremely similar.

E484K has been concerning scientists because it changes the shape of the virus’s outer spike protein in a way that makes it difficult for the body to recognise it if it is only used to looking for older versions of the virus without the mutation. This could raise the risk of reinfection or reduce how well vaccines work — but top Government advisers insist jabs should still be effective.

SAGE adviser Professor Calum Semple suggested today that the risk of the Kent variant – and other versions of the virus – continuing to evolve was ‘inevitable’ and ‘will occur in time’, and this mutation would likely be part of that.

Speaking about the threat, Professor Ravi Gupta, an infectious diseases expert at Cambridge University, said: ‘The number of sequences is low at present, though enhanced surveillance is being undertaken by PHE. There may be more cases out there given how high transmission has been. We need to continue vaccinating and drive down transmission.’

PHE scientists revealed they had found the E484K mutation in the Kent variant in a paper published yesterday.

The report said the mutation, best known for being the most worrying part of the South African and two Brazilian variants, had been found in 11 cases of the Kent strain up to January 26.

It said: ‘Preliminary information suggests more than one acquisition event,’ which means the cases were not all part of the same outbreak and the mutation had sprung up randomly on multiple occasions in different places.

The coronavirus is mutating all the time as a result of genetic errors when it multiplies, and the changes that make it able to spread more quickly or to survive longer inside the human body are the ones that are likely to stick around. 

They will be passed on to future generations if they give the virus a survival advantage, and the ability to spread faster and keep spreading for longer will help versions of the virus with that mutation to become dominant by overtaking slower, weaker versions.

Experts said it was likely that the E484K mutation had appeared in cases of the Kent variant by chance, although it was possible someone had been infected simultaneously with the South African strain.

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The testing blitz in the North West is separate from the door-to-door ‘surge testing’ being carried out in nine other postcodes in England.

On Tuesday, extra coronavirus testing was deployed into certain neighbourhoods in Woking in Surrey, Walsall in the West Midlands, as well as parts of London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Lancashire. Today ‘surge testing’ was announced in Worcestershire.

That programme is aimed at clamping down on cases of the South African variant. Officials have chosen those nine postcodes because they believe the strain is spreading in the communities there. 

More than 80,000 adults are being targeted as part of that programme and residents have been asked to take a test regardless of whether or not they have symptoms. 

Health officials have been joined by local police, councillors and firefighters to dish out the tests. 

Last week Matt Hancock said: ‘In those areas where this [South African] variant has been found – parts of Broxbourne, London, Maidstone and Southport, Walsall and Woking – we’re putting in extra testing and sequencing every positive test.

‘Working with local authorities we’re going door to door to test everyone in those areas and mobile testing units will be deployed offering PCR tests to people who have to leave their home for work or other essential reasons.

‘We have also seen 11 cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and 32 in Liverpool, and are taking the same approach. In all these areas it is imperative that people must stay at home and only leave home where it is absolutely essential.’ 

People will not be told what variant they are carrying because this cannot be seen in a routine test, but the plan intends to find positive cases among people without symptoms in a bid to isolate them before they can infect others.

Mr Hancock suggested the testing could be extended to neighbouring postcodes when he was pushed in the Commons by Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth.

‘We absolutely do that where it is epidemiologically sensible,’ he said.

‘So, for instance, if the case is found on the border of a postcode, obviously we go across that border and we also investigate linked premises, for instance if somebody had a child at a school or is going to work in a particular workplace.’ 

However, experts are sceptical about the testing scheme and say there are far more people infected with the strain than is currently known and that testing will slow it down, at best.

Public Health England has discovered the cases through random spot-checks on the swabs that people testing positive have submitted through the official testing scheme. This means that only a small proportion of the cases are sampled and, if they can be picked up randomly, it is likely there are large numbers of them.

Professor Andrew Hayward, an infectious disease expert at University College London and a member of SAGE, said that the 11 cases are the ‘tip of the iceberg’. He told Sky News: ‘We sequence between five and 10 per cent of cases so you can immediately tell from that that we have a big under-estimation of the number of cases.’

And Professor Calum Semple, a researcher at the University of Liverpool and also a member of SAGE, said on BBC Radio 4: ‘There is probably a few more cases out there than we even know about’.   

But the scheme suffered a hiccup when 100 people in Southport were left queuing for more than an hour in the rain while waiting for a Covid test — only to be told the PCR kits had not arrived. 

Mr Hancock called for residents in the affected areas in England to stay home and take ‘extra special precautions’. The Health Secretary said: ‘We need to come down on it hard and we will… It’s a big effort getting this new variant… essentially finding every single case of it, that is the goal.’

A briefing document described the plan as ‘a two-week sprint’ in ‘an attempt at eradication of the new variant if at all possible’.  

Volunteers in Woking were told to hand deliver the swab test but if a resident refused to take one, they should avoid getting involved in a confrontation.  

Residents who take the tests are told to swab their own nose and throat and then to place the completed test in a dedicated secure post box and not to post in in the mail.

And in West Ealing, in London, local people queued from 9am to get tested for the coronavirus at a centre manned by 20 staff close to the area’s high street. 

Passengers arriving in the UK could have to take FOUR coronavirus tests – and pay for them all 

All passengers arriving in Britain from countries not on the Covid hotspot list could have to take four tests during their isolation period, it emerged last night.

In another significant toughening of border policy, travellers from safer countries will be told they must take the PCR tests during the standard ten-day home quarantine period.

The mandatory testing regime will be introduced on February 15 and will be put in place alongside hotel quarantine for travellers from 33 countries on the ‘red list’. 

‘When you arrive into the UK you will have to take two tests during your ten-day isolation,’ a Government source explained. ‘It will be a further level of protection.’ 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is set to announce the new testing rules later this week. 

The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be taken on day five and day eight of isolation, it is understood, and results will take between 12 and 48 hours.  

It came as Britain’s hotel quarantine plan descended into chaos yesterday. Key planks of the policy were yet to be thrashed out and industry bosses said ministers had left them little time

It came as Britain’s hotel quarantine plan descended into chaos yesterday. Key planks of the policy were yet to be thrashed out and industry bosses said ministers had left them little time

It came as Britain’s hotel quarantine plan descended into chaos yesterday. Key planks of the policy were yet to be thrashed out and industry bosses said ministers had left them little time

These is on top of a test they must take up to 72 hours before boarding a flight from their country origin.

And a fourth test on the fifth day of at-home isolation can be also be taken by arrivals – but this is optional. If it comes back negative, the traveller will no-longer have to self isolate.

Both the optional fourth test and the first one taken prior to leaving must be paid for by arrivals. It is unclear who will cover the cost of the two other tests taken during quarantine.

Lateral flow tests are cheaper and give results in 30 minutes – but there are concerns they are less effective, especially when self-administered. PCR tests can take up to three days to identify positive cases.  

The plan will primarily affect Britons returning home from abroad. 

It is unclear how the two mandatory tests will be enforced. As it stands, arrivals who break their mandatory ten-day quarantine can be hit with fines – but it is not clear if this will be the case for testing. 

It is expected they will be posted the standard PCR kits to test themselves, but could also be given details of their nearest Covid testing centre after filling in a passenger locator form.

Details of the plan will be revealed next week.

It came as Britain’s hotel quarantine plan descended into chaos yesterday. Key planks of the policy were yet to be thrashed out and industry bosses said ministers had left them little time.

There were still no details last night on how border arrangements will be adjusted to identify those subject to quarantine and separate them from those that are not.

Hotels which may take part in the scheme must have rooms that can be properly ventilated and air conditioning systems that do not re-circulate air, it is understood

Hotels which may take part in the scheme must have rooms that can be properly ventilated and air conditioning systems that do not re-circulate air, it is understood

Hotels which may take part in the scheme must have rooms that can be properly ventilated and air conditioning systems that do not re-circulate air, it is understood

And a system so travellers can book a room ahead of arrival was yet to be launched. The details are expected to be released next week, less than seven days before the scheme kicks in on February 15. Another key issue is locating hotels with ventilation systems that will not spread the virus, the Mail understands.

Officials say they must avoid a scenario like that seen on cruise ships at the start of the pandemic, when Covid swept through the confined decks of holiday liners.

Hotels which may take part in the scheme must have rooms that can be properly ventilated and air conditioning systems that do not re-circulate air, it is understood.

Part of the delay to starting the hotel quarantine measures is due to identifying buildings which fit those requirements, sources said.

Hotels had until 5pm yesterday to bid to take part in the scheme, giving them about 24 hours after it was announced on Thursday evening.

The Government needs 28,000 rooms for the 1,425 passengers a day before February 15. 

Peter Ducker, chief executive of the Institute of Hospitality, said many hoteliers had ruled themselves out because it won’t be financially viable, with room charges capped at £80 plus VAT a night. 

Last night Travelodge ruled itself out of the running, but Accor – which owns the Ibis, Novotel and Mercure brands – suggested it may take part, along with the St Giles Hotel Group and Thistle Hotels.  

Best Western is offering up to 5,000 rooms. Hotels group Accor, Oyo and Taj Hotels will also offer rooms.

Police chiefs are against stationing officers at hotels – but have pledged to track down rule breakers.

A senior police source told The Daily Telegraph: ‘Our role should be purely to deal with absconded travellers, finding and returning them.’  

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