Responding to the announcement that testing for the new South African variant of Covid-19 will be starting in the Borough, Sefton Council Leader Cllr Ian Maher said: “I am pleased to see the Government acting promptly to implement this programme to test for the presence and possible spread of this new variant with the aim of bringing it under control quickly.
“I am also confident that our local communities will, as they have throughout the pandemic, follow the guidance on testing, self-isolation and the wider lockdown measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and help protect those who are vulnerable to it.”
Sefton’s Director of Public Health, Margaret Jones said: “Although it seems this new variant can still be combated through vaccination, it could be more transmissible, which means it could spread more quickly.
“That’s why it is important we carry out this additional testing to try and identify it and to limit the number of us who might be exposed to it.
“We will be setting up dedicated test sites for the new variant and once they are in place, I would encourage everyone aged over 16 in the areas targeted to get tested as soon as possible, even though they don’t have symptoms. This will help us find any cases of the new variant and help stamp it out.
“There is no reason for most of us to change our behaviour as a result of this news as long as we are already following the national regulations.
“This means staying at home except for essential purposes such as shopping for essential supplies, going to work if we can’t do so from home and providing care. It also means maintaining at least 2-metres’ distancing, wearing a mask or face covering while out and about and washing our hand frequently.”
Sefton Council and its partners are still working out exactly how the additional tests are going to take place in the light of today’s announcement but comprehensive testing has been in place across the Borough since April. This has been through a combination of pop-up mobile test units at various sites and permanent walk-through testing sites for people with coronavirus symptoms, and three SMART test centres for people with no symptoms.
To help you take a swab, the NHS has made step-by step guidance videos:
Mrs Jones added: “People across Sefton have taken full advantage of the range of testing available and I am confident those within the area covered by the new variant tests will respond positively to the Minister’s request to get tested. ”
“However, for anyone concerned we will be working with our partners to provide advice and support online and on the ground so that we can work together and continue to make progress towards a return to a more normal life for all of us.”
Positive tests will be sequenced to identify any further spread of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa, enabling a better understanding of the variant and identifying if there are any more cases of this particular strand of the virus in the area.
In total, Public Health England has identified 105 cases of the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa since 22 December. All cases and their contacts have been contacted and told to self-isolate. Other postcode areas where enhanced testing will be taking place are in London , the West Midlands , the East of England and the South East.
Announcing the testing, Health and Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is vital that we do all we can to stop transmission of this variant and I strongly urge everyone in these areas to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not. The best way to stop the spread of the virus – including new variants – is to stay at home and follow the restrictions in place. Until more people are vaccinated this is the only way we will control the spread of the virus.
“The UK is a global leader in Covid-19 genomics, and because of this, we have been able to identify new strains of the virus and take decisive action. We continue to closely monitor new variants, here and around the world, and in addition to our already extensive testing service, we are making surge testing capacity available to affected areas.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, Strategic Response Director to Public Health England and Chief Medical Advisor for NHS Test and Trace said: “As part of our proactive sequencing work, we know that the new variant of Covid-19, first detected in South Africa, has been identified in a number of areas across England. A small proportion of these cases have no link to international travel suggesting that there are some cases in the community.
“In response to this, we are ramping up testing in targeted areas, so we can gather more information and effectively monitor any further community transmission.”
As well as mobile test units, the four local walk-through test centres for people with symptoms are at Bootle Town Hall, Crosby Library Car Park, Netherton Activity Centre and Southport Town Hall. SMART test centres for people with no symptoms who have to go out for work or caring purposes are at Aintree Racecourse, Bootle Leisure Centre and Splash World in Southport.
Dr Andrew Furber, Regional Director at Public Health England North West, said: “The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Sefton. I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.
“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”