Matt Hancock has said the UK must “come down hard” on the South African coronavirus variant after community cases were found in eight areas across England.
“Surge testing” will be carried out in the eight postcodes where a total of 105 cases of the SA variant – called 501Y.V2 – have been identified. Worryingly, 11 cases have no connection or link to international travel confirming the variant is now being spread in the community.
The health secretary told today’s Downing Street coronavirus briefing that it is “imperative” everyone living in these areas stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus and to get a test when it is offered to them.
The Guardian quotes “a briefing on the response” that states the health secretary “has ordered an attempt at eradication of the new variant if at all possible”.
Teams will go door-to-door to conduct PCR tests in areas including Hanwell, west London; Tottenham, north London; Mitcham, south London; Walsall, in the West Midlands; Broxbourne, Hertfordshire; Maidstone, Kent; Woking, Surrey; and Southport, Merseyside. Everyone over the age of 16 will be asked to take a test, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms or not.
‘Play your part and take the test’
Ruth Hutchinson, director of public health for Surrey, said: “This is a precautionary measure – the more cases of the variant we find, the better chance we have at stopping it from spreading further. By playing your part and taking the test, you’ll be helping to keep your community and your loved ones safe.
“It’s really important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, so you don’t need to worry.”
Hancock told the briefing there is “currently no evidence” the new variant is “any more severe, but we need to come down on it hard, and we will.”
9.2 million people vaccinated
Hancock also confirmed that more than half of all people aged over 70 have received a vaccine dose, with a total 9.2 million people vaccinated across the UK – with more than 10% of the total (931,204) receiving jabs this weekend.
“And to put that into context – that’s one in every 60 adults in the whole United Kingdom vaccinated in one single weekend. It’s a mammoth effort,” said the health secretary.
“We’ve now vaccinated almost nine in 10 of all over 80s in the UK and now, as of today, we’ve vaccinated over half of all people in their 70s. And, I’m delighted that I can tell you we’ve visited every eligible care home with older residents in England, and offered vaccinations to all their residents and staff.”
Annual coronavirus vaccine likely, same as for flu
Chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation Prof Anthony Harnden, told Sky News at the end of January that the new variants “are a real worry” and added: “We are living in a world where coronavirus is so prevalent and naturally mutating that there are going to be new variants that pop up in all sorts of different countries.
“We may well be in a situation where we end up having to have an annual coronavirus vaccine much like we do with the flu vaccine.
“But the public want to be reassured that actually these technologies are relatively easy to edit and tweak and once we find strains that are predominant, the vaccines can be altered.”
Isle of Man ends lockdown and lifts restrictions
Meanwhile, the Isle of Man has declared the end of lockdown and the reopening of schools and hospitality for people on the island.
Pubs reopened today as children returned to classes at the end of a 25-day circuit breaker which banned people from mixing indoors to curb the community spread of the coronavirus.
“The end of the lockdown means that life on the Island can return to near normal,” a statement from the Isle of Man’s government said, confirming the end of social distancing and mask wearing recommendations.
At the island’s borders strict controls remain in place on who is allowed to travel there with a mandatory 21-day isolation for anyone entering (or testing for 14 day release).
“After almost a month of lockdown, this is the moment we have all been waiting for,” said the chief minister of the Isle of Man, Howard Quayle MHK (Member of the House of Keys). “The Isle of Man has achieved local elimination of the virus for a second time, meaning the risk of community spread of Covid-19 is extremely low.
A moment for relief and celebration
“We beat the virus once and we have done so again. This has only been possible due to the seriousness with which the public have approached the measures set out by government to bring the virus under control and eliminate its spread. This achievement is thanks to the collective determination, the sense of duty, and the community spirit of the Manx people, for which they are to be commended.
“Although this is a moment for relief and celebration, we cannot let down our guard. We are seeing other jurisdictions that have achieved local elimination battling with outbreaks. We must remain vigilant.”
The self governing region of the British Isles – in the middle of the Irish Sea – is home to 85,000 people and has recorded 434 cases of Covid-19 and 25 deaths.