Urgent door-to-door testing for the South Africa variant is to start in parts of England, including London, after untraceable cases of coronavirus have been found.
Residents in a part of Surrey are to be the first to be urgently tested for Covid-19 after it emerged the South African strain of the virus may have started spreading in the community.
The ‘surge testing’ has been announced as a ‘precautionary measure’ and will monitor the community spread of the new varient.
A total of 105 cases of the South Africa variant have been found to date in the UK, but this is the first sign of wider community spread.
Just over a week ago, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said all cases identified so far were connected to travel from South Africa.
But two people discovered to have contracted it in Surrey had no links to travel or previous variant cases.
This means Surrey will be subject to door-to-door tests, and testing will also take place in London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Walsall.
The number of Covid-19 cases has been falling sharply in recent week, but the cases caused by the variant were identified as part of Public Health England’s random checks on tests.
They were found in the Goldsworth Park and St Johns areas of Woking, and these areas will be visited and asked to carry out a COVID-19 test – regardless of whether they have symptoms or not.
Surrey’s Local Resilience Forum said the “surge testing” programme was to “closely monitor any community spread of the new variant, and restrict further transmission”.
Director of Public Health for Surrey Ruth Hutchinson 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.”
There is currently no evidence that the variant causes more severe illness.
Some of the vaccines in use and currently going through approval have shown some effectiveness against the variant.
Dr Alison Barnett, regional director at Public Health England South East, added: “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.”