The U.K. is launching so-called "surge testing" in a number of locations where additional cases of the South African coronavirus variant has been found. The government, in a statement regarding additional testing locations on Monday, said a "small number of cases" identified through extensive surveillance "cannot be traced back to international travel."
All cases are currently self-isolating and contact tracing is underway. Residents over 16 years of age living in several postal codes located East of England, London, North West, South East and West Midlands are encouraged to get tested regardless of whether they have symptoms.
The government will be deploying mobile units offering PCR tests to residents who must leave their home due to work or for other essential reasons, and local authorities are also equipped to provide additional home test kits.
The additional testing measures are on top of already-in-place travel bans and strict stay-at-home orders that were issued after the discovery of the variant cases.
"It is vital that we do all we can to stop transmission of this variant and I strongly urge everyone in these areas to get tested, whether you have symptoms or not," Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said, in the statement posted Monday. "The best way to stop the spread of the virus – including new variants – is to stay home and follow the restrictions in place. Until more people are vaccinated this is the only way we will control the spread of the virus."
To date, Public Health England has identified over 100 cases of the variant. Government officials said there is no reason to suspect that the currently-approved vaccines would not offer protection against the variant.
"The U.K. is a global leader in COVID-19 genomics, and because of this, we have been able to identify new strains of the virus and take decisive action," Hancock’s statement said. "We continue to closely monitor new variants, here and around the world, and in addition to our already extensive testing service, we are making surge testing capacity available to affected areas."
Hope of avoiding another surge in cases has been pinned to the distribution of coronavirus vaccines. The U.K. announced on Monday that the vaccine has been offered to residents at every eligible care home across England, totaling around 10,000. The U.K. has seen over 3.8 million cases of the illness and over 106,360 deaths.