South London has launched the UK’s largest surge testing operation following a “significant” outbreak of the Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa.
Everyone aged 11 and above who lives, works in or travels through the boroughs of Wandsworth and Lambeth — where 44 confirmed cases and 30 probable cases of the B.1.351 variant have been detected — should take a polymerase chain reaction test even if they do not show any symptoms, the Department for Health and Social Care said on Monday.
Those who have tested positive so far have isolated or are doing so, while their contacts have been traced and asked to quarantine.
The variant outbreak has been “significant”, said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, who urged people to come forward for a test.
The call generated a quick response. A queue of almost 1,000 people was snaking across the paths of Clapham Common on Tuesday morning as healthcare workers and NHS volunteers quickly established an emergency Covid-19 testing station.
Jadwiga Dominek, a nurse on her way to work at Lambeth hospital, said: “It’s good to see such a rapid response after the outbreak was on the radio this morning. Let’s hope they can get on top of it quickly so we don’t get another lockdown so quickly after the last one was lifted.”
She added: “Many people travel to and from this area and also have relations abroad, so it’s vital that the authorities deal with a serious outbreak like this quickly since public confidence and safety are most important for the recovery.”
Positive results will be sent to laboratories for genomic sequencing to establish the extent of the spread of the variant, the health department said.
The surge testing operation in the capital comes two months after South Africa halted the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. Trials showed the jab failed to protect against mild and moderate forms of disease caused by the variant first detected in the country.
Lambeth and Wandsworth have a combined population of more than 650,000.