Surge testing in new area after latest outbreak of Indian coronavirus variant

·3-min read
 Covid-19 test center sign seen outside.
On the day that the UK sees the highest daily toll of 1,325 deaths from Covid-19 this 'walk-In' test Centre at the University of Bedfordshire is empty. Despite the fact that latest figures show that Bedford has Covid-19 rates of 936 cases per 100k of population against a national average of 594. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The Indian COVID variant is spreading in several areas of the UK. (PA)

Surge testing is being carried out in a new area after the latest outbreak of the Indian coronavirus variant in the UK.

The B1.617.2 variant is spreading in several areas of the UK, especially in parts of the North West where the rate has been rising the quickest.

NHS Test and Trace is providing additional testing and genomic sequencing in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, following the detection of the Indian coronavirus variant.

The testing is taking place in the Wembrook and Abbey wards of the town.

Read: Thousands queue at Bolton ‘vaccine bus’ as India variant surges

Residents who live or work in these targeted areas, including all children over the age of two, are being encouraged to take a PCR test whether or not they are showing symptoms.

Meanwhile, enhanced contact tracing will be used for those who test positive with a variant of concern.

It comes after health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Monday that there were 2,323 confirmed cases of the Indian strain in the UK, meaning cases had doubled in just four days.

He added that 86 local authority areas had recorded at least five cases of the variant.

People line up outside a mobile vaccination centre, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bolton, Britain, May 16, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble
People line up outside a mobile vaccination centre, amid the outbreak of the Indian coronavirus variant in Bolton. (Reuters)

The strain has also been spreading in areas of London, the East Midlands and the South East.

In Bolton and Blackburn with Darwen, it is now the dominant strain with a total of 483 cases across the two areas, with Bedford the next worst area for the variant.

Vicky Head, Bedford's director of public health, said she was "really worried" about the spread of the variant in the area.

She told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday that there had been 80 confirmed cases of the variant in Bedford.

But despite the variant’s surge, Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that there was no "conclusive" evidence to deviate from the road map out of lockdown despite concerns over the Indian coronavirus variant.

Watch: Vaccinations queues continue in Bolton as Indian variant surges

The government will lift the remaining rules on 21 June, but this is contingent on four tests.

These include the vaccination programme’s success, reduction in hospital admissions and deaths among those vaccinated, infection numbers do not risk a surge in hospitalisations, and the risks do not fundamentally change by new variants of concern.

If outbreaks are limited, ministers could opt instead to push ahead with the reopening while keeping some areas under restrictions in an echo of the controversial tiers system introduced in 2020.

The prime minister said the "wall of defences" built up by the vaccination programme meant he doesn't see "anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map".

But, he added: "We've got to be cautious and we are keeping everything under very close observation.

"We'll know a lot more in a few days' time."

Read more:
Singapore shuts schools amid warning Indian variant could affect younger children more
Local lockdowns could be imposed in areas worst hit by Indian variant, Cabinet minister warns

Johnson said data from hotspots including Bolton, Blackburn, Bedford and Sefton were being examined to find out more about the impact of the variant.

Asked whether local lockdowns could be used, Johnson said: "We've just got to be cautious about the way we approach it and we will be letting people know as much as we can, as soon as we can.

"But at the moment we don't see anything conclusive that makes us think we have to deviate from the road map."

Earlier, cabinet minister George Eustice had said local lockdowns "would be an option and we cannot rule anything out".

Watch: Scientists wary of lockdown easing