London’s new South African Covid-19 variant cluster

Department of Health launches ‘largest surge testing operation to date’ in Wandsworth and Lambeth

Woman has a PCR test
(Image credit: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images)

Surge testing has begun in two south London boroughs after a “significant” cluster of the South African Covid-19 variant was identified in the area.

Wandsworth and Lambeth will have additional testing after 44 cases of the South African variant were confirmed, and an additional 30 “probable” cases were found, reports the BBC. All suspected cases are now isolating or have completed their isolation, and their contacts have been traced.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it had launched the “largest surge testing operation to date” in an attempt to suppress possible new cases of the variant.

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Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, described the cluster of cases as ”significant“ and called on local people to “play their part” in stopping the spread.

“PCR testing is now available for all and I would strongly encourage everyone, whether they live, work or travel through the boroughs, to get tested even if they don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus,” she said.

Extra testing will be made available in Lambeth and Wandsworth, with new testing sites set up to allow residents to access PCR tests, in addition to the twice-weekly rapid “lateral flow” testing that the government has made available to all people in England for free.

All people aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through the affected boroughs are urged to take a PCR test, even if they are not displaying any symptoms.

UK authorities have been concerned about the South African variant coming over from Europe, which has seen significant pockets of the variant. The continent, however, remains mostly affected by the so-called “Kent” variant of the disease.

One “very senior scientific government adviser” told ITV in March that the South African strain of Covid-19 “is the one variant most likely to have some resistance to the vaccine so it could cause problems, even amongst the vaccinated population”.

However, there is “no evidence” that the South African variant causes “more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected”, says the BBC.

“As with the original version, the risk is highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions,” said the broadcaster.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.