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Door-to-door testing for South African variant to start in Surrey
Door-to-door testing for South African variant to start in Surrey after two people in Woking test positive for Covid despite not leaving country and having no links to previous cases
Residents in parts of Surrey will be offered coronavirus tests after two people tested positive for the South African variant despite having no travel links.
Health chiefs will carry out door-to-door testing in the Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas of Woking, regardless of whether people have symptoms or not.
The swabs will be done by Surrey Local Resilience Forum (SLRF), along with Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care.
Ruth Hutchinson, director of public health for Surrey, said: ‘This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further.
‘By playing your part and taking the test, you’ll be helping to keep your community and your loved ones safe.
‘It’s really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don’t need to worry.’
So far there have been at least 94 cases of the South African variant, known as B.1.351, across the UK since December. But this is likely to be an under-estimate because PHE only analyses one in 10 random positive tests.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said all 94 cases identified as of last week were connected to travel from South Africa.
The variant has mutations on its spike protein which scientists fear will make it difficult for the immune system to recognise, even in vaccinated people, and ministers have banned travel from South Africa and surrounding countries as a result.
Two people in Surrey have tested positive for the South African variant of coronavirus, despite having no links to travel or previous cases of the strain
The variant has mutations on its spike protein which scientists fear will make it difficult for the immune system to recognise, even in vaccinated people
Dr Alison Barnett, regional director at Public Health England South East, said: ‘The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Surrey.
‘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.
‘The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.’
What variants are causing panic around the world?
Real name: B.1.1.7
When was it discovered? The variant was first found in the South East of England and can be traced back to September 2020.
What mutations does it have? It has 23 mutations, some of which change the shape of the spike protein on its outside. The main mutation is known as N501Y. This appears to make it better able to stick to the cells inside the body and makes it more likely to cause infection and faster to spread.
Why is it causing worry? UK studies have shown it is between 50 and 70 per cent more infectious than the regular strain, which has made it harder to control. Preliminary studies also show it is about 30 per cent more deadly than previous versions.
How many people have caught it in the UK? It is the dominant strain in Britain and accounts for the majority of new cases.
Real name: P.1
When was it discovered? In Tokyo, Japan, in four travellers arriving from Manaus, Brazil, on January 2.
What mutations does it have? P.1 has 17 mutations, three of which are particularly concerning to scientists.
Like the Kent variant, it also has the N501Y mutation which suggests it’s more infectious and possibly more lethal.
It also has a spike alteration named E484K, which scientists believe may be associated with an ability to evade parts of the immune system called antibodies.
Researchers suspect this is the case because strains with this mutation have been shown to reinfect people who caught and beat older versions of Covid.
Another key mutation in the variant, named K417T, has the potential to ‘possibly escape some antibodies’, according to British experts.
This mutation is less well-studied and the ramifications of this are still being researched.
Why is it causing worry? There have been a number of proven cases of people catching this variant after beating older versions of the virus. It strongly suggests the variant can evade natural immunity and possibly even vaccines.
How many people have caught it in the UK? It’s not. Public health officials and scientists randomly sample around 1 in 10 coronavirus cases in the UK and they have not yet reported any cases of the variant, but this doesn’t rule it out completely.
South African variant
Real name: B.1.351
When was it discovered? Nelson Mandela Bay, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, in mid-December.
What mutations does it have? The South African variant carries 21 mutations, including E484K and N501Y.
Why is it causing worry? Those two mutations suggest it is more infectious than the older version of Covid and raise the possibility of antibody resistance. However, Sir Patrick Vallance has said there is no reason the South African or Brazilian strains would become dominant in the UK, because they don’t have any evolutionary edge over the Kent strain currently plaguing the country, which is just as transmissible.
How many people have caught it in the UK? At least 77 Brits have been infected with this variant, though the number is likely to be far higher because PHE is only testing random positive samples.
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