Surge testing for South African Covid variant deployed on Suffolk/Norfolk border

There are fears Essex will go into Tier three restrictions Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Further targeted areas will have additional testing made available to control and suppress the spread of COVID-19 variants - Credit: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Increased testing and enhanced contact tracing is set to be rolled out in targeted areas of Suffolk and Norfolk where the Covid-19 mutation first identified in South Africa has been found.

The government is using 'surge testing' - which can include door-to-door tests - and genomic sequencing to monitor and suppress the spread of coronavirus and better understand new variants.

On Tuesday evening, the government announced additional testing to control and suppress the spread of the variant in further targeted areas, including the IP22 postcode, within which lies the Mid Suffolk villages of Palgrave, Botesdale and Rickinghall.

Working in partnership with the local authorities, additional surge testing and genomic sequencing are being deployed at the same time to targeted areas of Southampton and Woking.

People living in targeted areas are strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test, whether or not they are showing symptoms.

Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help understand variants and their spread.

Laboratory studies have shown that viruses with the E484K mutation, which is also found in the South African variant, can escape human defences, making them more efficient at evading natural and vaccine-triggered immunity.

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Surge testing started at the beginning of February and is already being carried out in areas of London, Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and Middlesbrough.

It involves increased testing – including door-to-door testing in some areas – and enhanced contact tracing in specific locations in England.

Genomic sequencing means analysing the virus sample to understand how it compares with other cases.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: "Surge testing is being introduced in addition to existing extensive testing and, in combination with following the current lockdown rules and remembering Hands Face Space advice, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus.

"Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help understand Covid-19 variants and their spread within these areas.  

"People living within these targeted areas are strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test this week, whether they are showing symptoms or not.

"People with symptoms should book a test in the usual way, and those without symptoms should visit their local authority website for more information."

Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk's director of public health, said on Twitter that all adults in Diss and Roydon would be tested from Friday as a precaution to find the South African variant virus, but that overall numbers in area were going down and that there was no need for people to worry.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said public health colleagues in Norfolk would be leading the programme and added no further comment.