Targeted coronavirus testing has been rolled out across areas of England as authorities work to contain the spread of the South African variant.
Door-to-door deliveries began on Tuesday with extra testing in eight postcode areas of the country, as urgent efforts got under way to swab 80,000 people in a bid to stop transmission.
Some locals expressed concern about the variant – which is thought to be as transmissible as the Kent strain but not known to cause more severe disease – with one man saying more action should have been taken sooner.
Eleven cases of the variant have been identified over the last five or six days in people who have no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.
Only one case had been identified in the local population in part of Kent before door-to-door testing of around 10,000 people began.
Speaking to the PA news agency in Maidstone, council director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark said the purpose of the testing is not just to find Covid cases but to sequence for “all of the different variants”.
Peter Rice, one of those in the town to get a testing kit delivered to his home, said he had been obeying all the restrictions and had just had his vaccine.
Asked if it worried him that the South African variant had been found in his community, the 74-year-old said: “It does and it doesn’t, it’s all over the place.
“I think that we should have reacted a lot sooner, months ago.
“Maybe if we did this may have never occurred or if it did we’d have been more prepared for it.”
In Woking, Surrey – where two cases of the strain were discovered, volunteers were ringing and knocking on doors on streets within part of the GU21 postcode area.
Plans involve more than 100 volunteers handing over PCR tests, which are not compulsory, for around 9,500 residents living in the area this week.
Surrey County Council said volunteers went out with 3,000 kits on Tuesday and that there appeared to have been good uptake.
A spokesman said test packs expire 24 hours after being opened, and therefore staff will try to collect them within that timeframe.
Once completed and collected by the volunteers, who are working in pairs, the tests are sent to a laboratory to be examined.
Local resident Robyn Brunskill, 22, said the situation was “quite concerning, especially if they are saying people who have it haven’t had any direct association with South Africa”.
Mother-of-two Teresa Miller said it was a “good idea” to try and get the strain under control, adding that it is “important that everyone gets tested”.
The 42-year-old who works for Kingston University, described her experience of having recently had coronavirus was “awful”, leaving her feeling “exhausted” and “totally drained of energy”.
Stewart Dawkins, 58, a key worker for a supermarket, said the rollout of tests was “a good thing” but “a bit of a waste of time” if people are going to work.
Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver, said residents should not be concerned about the South African strain being identified in Woking, explaining that the ramped up testing is “an exercise to identify where this variant is sitting in the community”.
Chris Moon, head of logistics for the Surrey Local Resilience Forum, said PCR testing kits were of the “highest standard” and “very accurate”.
He added that tests are also being delivered for school teachers and local businesses and shops in the affected area of Woking.
Woking surge testing starts today. If youâre in the test area:— Woking Council (@wokingcouncil) February 2, 2021
- carry on as you have been under lockdown conditions i.e. go to work if you can't do so from home.
- If you're not home, volunteers will call again.
More > https://t.co/4Eaa9vk7sq#SurgeTesting #Woking pic.twitter.com/DuGRItfVS9
Universities minister Michelle Donelan told BBC Breakfast that people in affected areas should be “thinking twice about their actions”, working from home if possible and “limiting even more” how much time they spend outside their home.
Mobile testing units and home testing kits are also being deployed to the following areas: Hanwell, west London; Tottenham, north London; Mitcham, south London; Walsall in the West Midlands; Broxbourne, Hertfordshire; Maidstone, Kent; and Southport, Merseyside.
Testing to identify cases of the South African variant in Southport, Merseyside, will begin on Wednesday.
While in Surrey tests are only for those aged over 18, Sefton Council’s director of public health Margaret Jones said anyone aged over 16 within their area can turn up and have a test with no need for an appointment.