Covid: Which areas are being mass tested for the South Africa variant?
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Covid: Which areas are being mass tested for the South Africa variant?

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Mass testing – or surge testing – is taking place across various parts of England to help stop the spread of new, more infectious strains of Covid-19.

The South Africa variant and a new mutation of the Kent variant are those currently being targeted.

Where is surge testing taking place?

Over-16s who live or work in the following places are being asked to take tests for the South Africa variant, whether or not they have symptoms:

Testing in the ME15 postcode area of Kent and the GU21 postcode area of Surrey has now finished.

In addition, more than 10,000 tests are planned in Manchester after four cases of a new mutant strain of the Kent variant were found in two unconnected households.

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Positive cases across England will be analysed for evidence of the new variants.

Those in the affected areas who have Covid symptoms are being asked to apply for a test in the normal way.

The South Africa variant

The South Africa strain does not appear to cause more serious illness in the vast majority of people.

However, it is believed to spread more easily and vaccines may not work as well against it.

A small study conducted in South Africa suggests the Oxford AstraZeneca jab offers “minimal protection” against mild disease caused by the variant.

The 147 cases detected in England so far come from a random sampling of between 5% and 10% of positive cases, so the true number could be far higher.

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The Kent variant

Experts think the UK or “Kent” strain may also be more infectious. Some research suggests it may be associated with a 30% higher risk of death. However, the evidence is not strong and the data is still uncertain.

The cases discovered in Manchester show a new mutation of the Kent variant called E484K which is also present in the South Africa variant.

What are the rules in surge test areas?

Everywhere in England is currently under national lockdown, and there are no additional restrictions in place in the surge test areas.

However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons it was “critical” that people in targeted areas stay home as much as possible, and limit trips outside.

People are being asked to work from home if they can, and some schools have asked parents to keep children at home if possible.

What happens if I test positive?

Anyone who gets a positive result test must immediately self-isolate for at least 10 days. NHS Test and Trace will tell their contacts to isolate if necessary.

Self-isolating means not leaving home for exercise or even to buy food, medicines or other essentials.

People in England who fail to self-isolate after a positive test can be fined up to £10,000.

Anyone on a low income who has been told to self-isolate can claim a £500 payment from their local authority.

What are the different types of coronavirus test?

Several types of test have been developed but two have mainly been used.

The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test

The PCR test involves swabbing your nose or throat, dropping the swab in a vial of liquid and sending it to a lab for analysis.

It is regarded as the most reliable test, but normally takes a day or longer to get a result.

People tested under the new variant surge programmes are being offered PCR tests.

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This also involves a swab from the nose or throat, which is dropped into liquid. The solution is then added to a test strip which shows a result in 20-30 minutes.

In a pilot scheme lateral flow tests weren’t good at picking up relatively small amounts of virus, but did identify the majority of the most infectious cases.

Regular lateral flow tests are offered to many NHS staff, and by other employers to their workers. Some councils are also offering them to people without symptoms.

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