Londoners in six boroughs are being checked for the Indian coronavirus variant amid a surge-testing blitz in the capital city as scientists sample sewage for signs of Covid in two thirds of England.
NHS Test and Trace has extended additional testing and genomic sequencing to targeted settings in Harrow, Ealing, Hillingdon and Brent in west London from today, following the identification of the B1617.2 strain.
Hackney and Hounslow were also previously added to the boroughs offered surge testing and vaccinations following a rise in the Indian and South African variants.
Local authorities will shortly confirm the areas where additional testing will be offered within the four new boroughs. The cases found have been instructed to self-isolate and their contacts are being identified.
Everyone who lives, works or studies in the targeted areas and settings, including children, are being strongly encouraged to take a PCR test, whether they are showing symptoms or not.
The Department of Health and Social Care also announced on Thursday that a vaccine roll-out drive has been ‘bolstered’ in Bedford, Burnley, Kirklees, Leicester and North Tyneside to protect the most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, a new ‘triple mutant’ strain has emerged in Yorkshire with 49 cases identified, although there is no evidence to suggest the strain is resistant to vaccines or more transmissible, according to health chiefs.
It comes as a programme to test sewage to assess the prevalence of different Covid-19 variants in different regions now covers two thirds of England’s population, the Government has said.
People take Covid tests at a mobile coronavirus surge testing centre in Brockwell Park in south London last month. NHS Test and Trace has extended additional testing and genomic sequencing to targeted settings in Harrow, Ealing, Hillingdon and Brent from today
People stand in line for coronavirus surge testing on Clapham Common, south London, last month. Hackney and Hounslow were previously added to the boroughs offered surge testing following a rise in the Indian and South African variants
A man wearing a face mask walks past a testing centre amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease in the Shoreditch area of London on May 17
Londoners in six boroughs – Harrow, Ealing, Hillington, Brent, Hackney and Hounslow – are being checked for the Indian coronavirus variant amid a surge-testing blitz in the capital city
The scheme tests samples of wastewater for traces of the virus, and positive samples are genome sequenced to identify whether it is a variant of concern, such as the India strain.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the programme had helped identify the need for surge testing in areas such as Bristol and Luton.
The programme then continues to monitor sewage after surge testing has ended, to ensure the variant is no longer circulating in the area.
The Environmental Monitoring for Health Protection (EMHP) Programme is led by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) and is part of the newly-formed UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The DHSC hopes that post-pandemic, wastewater testing will help monitor other viruses such as flu, helping the NHS predict which areas are likely to be hit hardest by outbreaks.
A dedicated wastewater testing lab opened in Exeter last month, and is now receiving samples gathered by Environment Agency scientists from 500 locations across England.
It is estimated the programme now covers two-thirds of England’s population.
Monitoring in a specific catchment can even pinpoint localised outbreaks, without relying on residents to come forward for swab testing, the DHSC said.
A man takes part in surge testing for the coronavirus disease in London on May 14. The DHSC hopes that post-pandemic, wastewater testing will help monitor other viruses such as flu, helping the NHS predict which areas are likely to be hit hardest by outbreaks
A man takes a swab sample from his son at a Covid surge testing site in London on May 14. Local authorities will shortly confirm the areas where additional testing will be offered within the four new boroughs
A woman walks past a banner featuring a coronavirus testing site set up at St Mary’s Church Hall in the London borough of Hillingdon as part of surge testing to monitor and suppress the spread of the Indian coronavirus variant
A woman takes a swab sample for the coronavirus disease at a surge testing site in London. Local authorities will shortly confirm the areas where additional testing will be offered within the four new boroughs
People take part in Covid surge testing on Clapham Common, London, last month. It comes as a programme to test sewage to assess the prevalence of different Covid-19 variants in different regions now covers two thirds of England’s population
People stand in line for coronavirus surge testing on Clapham Common last month. Meanwhile, a new ‘triple mutant’ strain has emerged in Yorkshire with 49 cases identified, although there is no evidence to suggest the strain is resistant to vaccines or more transmissible
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘Sequencing wastewater samples provides an additional detection system for variants of concern, enabling us to respond more effectively to outbreaks and better protect citizens.’
Programme lead at the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Dr Andrew Engeli, said: ‘As infections fall and we head out of national restrictions, analysing wastewater to detect variants early on is important to help local authorities and NHS Test and Trace act quickly to stop variants from spreading in communities.’
Sewage testing can also be used in specific institutions, such as food manufacturing sites or prisons.
The DHSC said: ‘It is not possible to trace back the samples of Covid-19 to specific individuals and no personal information is collected.’
Christina Gray, director for communities and public health at Bristol City Council, said: ‘This technology helped us to be confident that the picture we were seeing through testing results was a true reflection of the spread of infection, and that there was not a pool of undetected infection that we were unaware of.’
She added: ‘When we get to a stage where we wind down routine testing, this method could potentially provide an effective means of identifying rising infection and assist us in taking prompt public health action.’
It comes amid Kirklees having the fourth highest Covid-19 case rate in the country – as the new ‘Yorkshire variant’ is found.
Travellers returning to Britain from an amber location must quarantine at home for 10 days and take a pre-departure test and two post-arrival tests
The area has seen a sharp increase in rates in just 24 hours, according to the most recent figures. For the seven days to May 17, Kirklees had 352 new cases and a rate of 80 per 100,000.
But in the seven days to May 16, the area recorded 324 new cases and a rate of 73.7 per 100,000. This means the rate has increased by seven in just one day.
The figures, which are based on the number of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 in either a lab-reported or rapid lateral flow test, suggest there could be an upward tread in the area.
Kirklees’ rates means its now fourth in the country in terms of infection rates, after Bolton, Blackburn with Darwen, and Bedford.
However, the upward trajectory would be in line with the surge testing that has just been rolled out in the area. Kirklees’ increase in rates also comes as another mutation of coronavirus dubbed the ‘Yorkshire variant’ has been detected in the UK with 49 cases found so far.
Currently categorised as VUI-21MAY-01 by Public Health England (PHE), 49 cases of the new variant mainly concentrated in the Yorkshire and Humber have been confirmed in England.
PHE explained it had been monitoring the variant, which is classed one step below the Indian variant which is a Variant of Concern, since April and that the variant is ‘from a lineage which was designated a signal in monitoring on May 6, 2021 based on an unusual mutation profile’.
There is currently no evidence the variant under investigation causes a more severe disease. There is also no evidence that the new variant threatens the effectiveness of the current vaccines, according to PHE