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Door-to-door delivery of tests to find South African variant gets under way

David Nolan, Group Commander for the West of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, sorts through Covid-19 Home Testing kits waiting to be distributed at Woking Fire Station in Woking, Surrey. Residents in a part of Surrey are to be urgently tested for Covid-19 after it emerged the South African strain of the virus may have started spreading in the community. Two positive cases of the strain - which has been worrying scientists - have been identified in people with no links to travel or previous contact with those affected. Pic by Steve Parsons

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

Operations for the door-to-door delivery of thousands of coronavirus testing kits are getting under way across England to help identify cases of the South African variant.

The plans are part of urgent efforts to swab 80,000 people in an attempt to halt the spread of the strain.

Eleven cases of the variant have been identified over the last five or six days in people who have no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan told BBC Breakfast people in the affected areas should be “thinking twice about their actions”, working from home if possible and “limiting even more” how much time they spend outside their home.

More than 100 volunteers are due to help deliver tests within the GU21 postcode area of Woking in Surrey, one of eight postcode areas being targeted across the country.

A first briefing was held on Monday morning outside the town’s fire station, with local officials hoping the operation will take four or five days.

Plans involve delivering PCR tests, which are not compulsory, for around 9,500 residents living in an area within the GU21 postcode.

Two cases of the South African variant of coronavirus have been identified in Woking but local residents should not be concerned, the leader of Surrey County Council said.

Tim Oliver said: “There have been two cases identified in the postcode GU21 here in Woking of people that have the South African variant.

“What we’re doing today is starting a mass testing programme of between 9,000 and 10,000 residents living in that geographical area, really with the view to discovering how far and wide that variant has spread, or maybe it hasn’t.”

Mr Oliver added: “We want as many people as possible to take the test but it’s not compulsory at all, it’s voluntary.

“There’s no need for people to worry or panic about this. It’s just an exercise to identify where this variant is sitting in the community.”

He said: “They shouldn’t be concerned; it’s a bit more virulent, as we know, than some of the other variants, but the symptoms are the same.”

Volunteers will drop off testing kits and return later in the day to collect them before the tests are sent off to a lab to be examined for the South African strain.

They will revisit homes on another occasion if people are not in.

A spokeswoman for Surrey County Council said the tests are to be completed by members of households over the age of 18.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits will also be deployed to the following areas: Hanwell, west London; Tottenham, north London; Mitcham, south London; Walsall in the West Midlands; Broxbourne, Hertfordshire; Maidstone, Kent; and Southport, Merseyside.

Chris Moon, head of logistics for the Surrey Local Resilience Forum, said help for the operation has come from Woking Borough Council, Surrey Police and Surrey Fire and Rescue.

He said of the PCR tests being delivered: “These are the highest standard of testing kits, so they are not the ones that give the results in a short while, they are the ones that are very accurate, and are actually set up to go to a laboratory where they specifically test for the South African variant.

“The packs that people will get, there’s the full instructions in there, what they need to do, it is a very simple process.

“All they need to do is put them back in the box and we will come and pick them up. It is as simple as that.”

Mr Moon added that tests are also being delivered for school teachers and local businesses and shops in the area.

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