Further surge testing is being introduced in another part of England following the discovery of the South African variant of Covid-19.
The mutation has now been found in Leeds, prompting the Department of Health (DH) to announce additional testing and genomic sequencing in an effort to detect cases and prevent further spread.
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People in the LS8 postcode area of Leeds, which includes parts of Harehills and the area just north of Easterly Road where the variant was found, are being “strongly encouraged” to take a test when it is offered, regardless of whether they have symptoms.
Victoria Eaton, Leeds City Council’s director of Public Health, said: “We want to reassure local residents that the extra testing being announced for people without symptoms is to help us better understand and prepare for new variants in our communities.
“There is absolutely no indication of live cases of the South African variant in the LS8 area, and no evidence of a greater risk of transmission for local people. Levels of infection have been falling in these areas of Leeds over recent weeks, in line with improving infection rates right across the city, which is really positive news and we want to do all we can to keep these rates falling.
“Cases of the South African variant also remain very low nationally, and it does not lead to more severe disease and is not thought to be any more contagious than the dominant UK variant.
“This additional testing will allow us to find any potential asymptomatic cases of new variants and build a more detailed, comprehensive picture of where those cases may come from and how they might spread.
“Anyone who is approached to take part would be playing a really important role in national efforts to stay ahead of COVID-19, and we would encourage local residents to take up offers to be tested.”
Leeds is the latest part of England to have targeted testing set up, with the department setting up testing regimes in parts of Norfolk, Southampton and Woking in Surrey earlier this week.
Efforts in Manchester are also being expanded to track down the more transmissible Kent Covid-19 variant following a deployment of testing teams last week.
A spokeswoman for the department said: “Extra testing is being introduced in addition to existing extensive testing, and in combination with following the current lockdown rules and remembering Hands Face Space advice, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus.
“Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help understand Covid-19 variants and their spread within these areas.”
Public Health England (PHE) has said that sequencing of positive PCR tests (swabs that are processed in a laboratory) can take around two weeks.
A DH spokeswoman said that data from areas where surge testing has been completed, or is nearing completion, is “due to be provided in due course”.
The least figures show that a total of 1,295,051 PCR tests were conducted in England in the week to 10 February, while at the same time there has been a huge spike in the number of rapid turnaround lateral flow device (LFD) tests.
A record 2,400,724 LFD tests were conducted in England in the week to 10 February, the latest NHS Test and Trace figures show.
This marks the second successive week in which more LFD tests were conducted than PCR tests.
These rapid tests can give results within 30 minutes without the need for processing in a laboratory, and are being used as a quick way to test people who do not have any symptoms.
The government described lateral flow tests as “ideal for widespread use in the community”, and are a quick and effective way to detect cases, as around one in three people with Covid-19 do not display any symptoms.