Door-to-door coronavirus testing in the ME15 area of mid-Kent will begin on Tuesday morning (2nd Feb) after a specific variant of COVID-19 was identified.
Kent County Council and its partners in the Kent Resilience Forum urge all eligible residents to play their part in this important testing programme.
Government have asked for as many people as possible in the ME15 area to be tested following information that a specific variant of COVID-19 may have been identified in the area in a resident who has no links to travel or other variant cases. The variant is known as the South African SARS-CoV-2 – also known as VOC0202012/02.
Households within the ME15 area will be visited by staff from Kent Police, Maidstone Borough Council, Kent Fire and Rescue and other support agencies, who will knock on their door and ask everyone aged 16 and over to carry out a PCR test there and then; this test will then be picked up and sent for laboratory testing within a short time of the initial visit by the same team.
Residents should take this test whether they have symptoms or not. If residents have either just had a test – or are booked in for a test soon – it is important that they still take this test as additional sequencing for test positives will be undertaken.
Andrew Scott-Clark, Director of Public Health for Kent County Council said: “We have been asked by Government to help investigate whether this variant of COVID-19 can be found in the ME15 postcode area after one person tested positive for this variant.
“By visiting houses door to door and offering a quick and easy PCR test, we can help restrict the spread of the virus even further, as well as testing all those samples for this South African variant.
“Our colleagues from Kent Police, Maidstone Borough Council, Kent Fire and Rescue and other support agencies will be carrying out these household visits and they are well trained in how to support people carrying out these tests.
“I would encourage everyone to play their part by taking this PCR test when it is offered and follow the usual advice around self-isolation if they test positive.
“I would like to reassure people that there is currently no evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 variant causes more severe illness, or that the vaccines being used will not protect against it.
“People across Kent should continue to follow the national restrictions that are currently in place.”
The extra surge testing carried out in ME15 postcode areas will be sent to laboratories for sequencing to identify whether the positive test results also test positive for the specific variant strain known as the South African variant.
Dr Alison Barnett, Regional Director at Public Health England South East, said: “The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Kent and I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.
“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face.
“If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”
Health and Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “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. The best way to stop the spread of the virus – including new variants – is to stay at 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.
“The UK 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. 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.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, Strategic Response Director to Public Health England and 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.”
People are reminded that the national lockdown is still in place and should stay at home unless they need to leave the house for essential reasons.
Play your part to protect yourselves and your loved ones, and don’t be the reason someone catches COVID. To find information on symptom-free test sites across Kent and book a test, go to www.kent.gov.uk/symptomfreetest
If you have coronavirus symptoms, please book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119.
PCR tests are sent to a laboratory for testing, and samples are stored for further investigation if needed. This is why PCR tests are being offered door-to-door rather than the quicker lateral flow tests, which detect the virus but cannot be analysed further. Lateral flow tests are disposed of at the site at the end of the day.
Further information including map of the affected area available at www.kent.gov.uk/targetedtesting
A total of 105 cases of SARS-CoV-2 variant (also known as VOC-202012/02) have been identified to date across the UK.
The Kent Resilience Forum has been working on the COVID response since March 2020 and is made up of local partners including Kent County Council, Medway Council, Kent Police, District & Borough Councils, Kent Fire and Rescue Service, Public Health England, NHS partners and Search and Rescue from Kent.