Surge testing is being introduced in more areas of England after cases of the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa were detected.
The testing be deployed in:
Middlesbrough within the TS7 postcodeAreas in WalsallSpecific areas in the RG26 postcode in Hampshire
People in these areas are strongly encouraged to take a COVID test this week, whether or not they have symptoms, said a Department of Health spokesperson.
People without symptoms should visit their council website for information, while those with symptoms should book an NHS test the usual way.
The South Africa variant is believed to be more resistant to vaccines, but experts still expect them to provide protection against serious illness.
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Only small pockets of the variant have been found in the UK so far, with surge testing deployed in those areas to root out any more cases.
Middlesbrough Council said a test centre was in place at the Parkway Centre in Coulby Newham.
Anybody over 16 from the Marton and Coulby Newham areas – where the single variant case was detected – is being urged to get a test. No appointment is needed.
The city’s mayor, Andy Preston, said: “New variants are popping up in different towns and cities around the country.
“What’s really important now is that we establish whether the variant has spread further around Middlesbrough.”
The surge testing in Walsall is in response to a second case of the South Africa variant being found not linked to travel.
Testing in relation to the first case began at the start of the month and has now been completed.
Any positive cases detected will be sequenced for genomic data to help understand the variants and how they spread.
The extra testing has also been rolled out recently in areas of London, Manchester, Kent and Surrey.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said this week that numbers of the South Africa variant were “very small”.
He said it was unlikely to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the UK – which is still the one first detected in Kent, which spreads more easily.
A small study in South Africa found the AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective at stopping mild and moderate disease, but Professor Van-Tam said it was “still rather likely to have an effect on severe disease”.
However, more data is needed to establish that with certainty as the 2,000 participants in the study were mainly young healthy adults.
Oxford University and AstraZeneca have started adapting the vaccine against the variant and say it will be ready for autumn delivery if needed.
Ministers have said regular boosters could become the norm to protect against new variants.