Testing to be increased as South African Covid variant discovered in UK

Health secretary Matt Hancock said hospitals' debt would be written off. Picture: Pippa Fowles/Crown

Health secretary Matt Hancock was speaking at a press conference from Downing Street on Monday. - Credit: Pippa Fowles/Crown/Downing Street/PA Wire

The health secretary has confirmed the introduction of enhanced testing in some areas after more than 100 cases of the new South African variant of Covid-19 were discovered in the UK.

Matt Hancock said surge testing - including door-to-door tests being carried out - is being introduced in areas where the variant has been found in cases where it is not linked to travel – none of these are in Norfolk or Suffolk.

The postcodes in which the enhanced testing will take place are CR4, N17 and W7 in London, EN10 in Hertfordshire, ME15 in Kent, PR9 in Lancashire, GU21 in Surrey and WS2 in Walsall.

in total, the South African variant has been discovered in 105 cases so far in the UK. The health secretary added that 11 of them seem to not be linked to international travel.

Mr Hancock said: "There is no evidence to suggest that this variant is any more severe, but we need to come down on it hard, and we will.

"We've already made sure that all these cases are isolating, and that we've done enhanced contact tracing of all their contacts.

"We're surging extra testing into the areas where this variant has been found, and sequencing every single positive case.

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"Working with local authorities, we're going door to door to test people in the local area."

At the press conference from Downing Street on Monday, he stated that the UK has now vaccinated 9.2million people, with more than 900,000 given their first jab over the weekend.

Mr Hancock added that almost nine in 10 of all over 80s have had their first dose, while more than half of over 70s have also been vaccinated.

He said the UK has now ordered another 40 million vaccine doses from Valneva, adding that the UK is continuing with its "no regrets" attitude to backing vaccines that have yet to be approved.

It comes as every local authority in Norfolk reported a week-on-week drop in case rates.

In the week up to January 27, there were 305.8 cases per 100,000 reported in the county, compared to 399.2 in the previous seven-day period.

This is, however, slightly above the England average of 294.2.

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