- 1 February 2021
Extensive surveillance of COVID-19 has identified a small number of cases of the COVID-19 variant first discovered in South Africa, in localities across England, including an area in Walsall, which can’t be traced back to international travel.
The Council is working closely with Public Health England and the national NHS Track and Trace team to support measures to curb any potential spread of this variant; this will include significantly increasing the testing offer in a targeted and intelligence-led way.
Residents, over the age of 18, who are living or working in parts of the WS2 postcode area will be strongly encouraged to take a COVID-19 test this week, even if they are not showing symptoms. Testing Units will be deployed offering testing and Walsall Council will also be encouraging people in the area to get tested by providing home test kits.
Testing, in combination with measures such as hands-face-space and lockdown measures, will help to suppress and control the spread of the virus, while enabling a better understanding of the new variant.
Positive tests will be analysed to identify any further spread of the new variant first discovered 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.
Councillor Stephen Craddock, Portfolio Holder for Health and Wellbeing said:
“I do understand that this news will cause concern. Our priority remains very much to keep our communities, and particularly our most vulnerable residents, safe. Please do play your part by following the ‘hands, face, space’ guidance and minimise your contact with others as much as possible.
“We are aiming to test an additional 10,000 residents without symptoms of COVID-19 in the next few weeks to assess containment of this variant. If you are asked to be tested, please do take up the offer. It’s quick, easy and painless and, put simply, you could save lives by doing so.”
Stephen Gunther, Director of Public Health said:
“The more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at suppressing it. Please help to keep your community safe by getting tested so we can find the variant and protect you and your loved ones.
“There is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccines would not protect against it, but research indicates that it does transmit from person to person more easily.
“We know that mutations form a part of the virus cycle and the scientific community is well prepared to analyse new variants and assess what action may need to be taken.
“If a person tests positive, has any symptoms, or is contact traced following contact with someone who tests positive, they should self-isolate immediately.”
“Plans are being finalised with and soon will be publicised widely through every channel available.”
Councillor Craddock added:
“What I can advise at present is that there will be a minimum of one additional Mobile Testing Unit (MTU) in the borough. However we recognise that not everyone has access to a car and may feel anxious about using public transport, so plan to expand that offer as well as offering home testing kits, which come with clear instructions.
“We would very much appreciate the assistance of faith and other community leaders and trusted local voices in reaching our communities and encouraging them to get tested.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, 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.”
Note to Editor
- Working in partnership with local authorities, NHS Test and Trace is targeting specific postcode areas where the variant has been found. These postcodes are: London (W7, N17, CR4); West Midlands (WS2); South East (ME15); East of England (EN10); South East (GU21, TW20); North West (PR9).
- People with symptoms should book a test in the usual way People should continue to follow the lockdown rules and remember ‘hands, face, space’.
- It is known that mutations form a part of the virus cycle and we are well prepared to sequence new variants and assess what action may need to be taken.
If a person tests positive, has any symptoms, or are contact traced following contact with someone who tests positive, they should self-isolate immediately.