Hundreds queue in rain as Covid doorstep tests for ‘worrying’ South Africa strain start

Hundreds of people have queued for coronavirus tests in the rain in areas of England where officials fear the South African variant is spreading.

The Government has ordered urgent testing in eight postcode areas where the mutation has been detected.

Even people with no symptoms are being urged to get tested.

Around 80,000 residents in parts of London, Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire, West Midlands, and Merseyside are caught up in the ‘surge’ testing blitz.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the door-to-door testing plan in a Downing Street press conference on Monday night.

Officials are in a bid to track down «every single case» of the mutant South African strain to prevent it spreading further.

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People queue in Ealing, west London, for a surge testing facility
People queue in Ealing, west London, for a surge testing facility

The variant is worrying officials as it is believed to be more virulent than the original.

Mobile testing units and home testing kits ahve been deployed to the postcode areas, where residents are back under strict ‘stay at home’ orders.

The Mirror has spoken to people in three key ‘surge’ testing postcodes, as residents lined up in the rain for testing to get underway today during a wintry blast.



The queue for SMART Covid-19 testing at Splash World,Southport.
Umbrellas were useful in the queue for Covid-19 testing at Splash World in Southport today

Southport, Merseyside

In Southport hundreds of people queued in the pouring rain for a Covid test after fears grew over the South African variant of the virus.

But door to door testing of residents will not start until tomorrow.

Outside the seaside town’s Splash World centre, residents faced an hour long wait to be swabbed.



Mass Covid-19 testing kits are handed out to residents in Woking
Mass Covid-19 testing kits are handed out to residents in Woking

But some were confused after being told by officials the tests they were about to take would not be able to identify the South African strain of the bug.

John Eaton, 77, from Southport, said: “They are telling people from various postcodes to be tested for the South African variant but they are telling us here they are not geared up for it.

“They have just come out and told us they can’t set the computers up that quickly because the story only broke last night.”

Martin Peart, 53, also from the PR9 area, who works for a shop fitting company, said: “I’m here for work purposes, some of us have to travel for work and I’ve been told I have to have the test.”



Members of the public line up for Covid testing in Ealing
Members of the public line up for testing in Ealing

But he too was confused, saying: “We have come for this test, which will tell us whether we are negative or positive, but it can’t decipher if it is the South African strain because they have not got the technology in place.

“I thought the whole idea of this was to find out how many people have got the South African version.”

Adam Rigby, 24, who works in insurance, said: “I’m from PR9 so I’ve come here to be tested. My work said I needed a negative test to get back to work.

“Because of the new strain, the South African variant, my work contacted me and said I needed a negative test.



People queue for the Covid tests in Ealing, London
Queues of people followed advice to get their Covid tests in Ealing on Tuesday

“But the woman here said they can’t necessarily determine what strain you have, but a negative test is a negative test.”

And as the queue built steadily throughout the morning, he added: “It is getting busier and busier here. I think a lot of people are in the same boat, they need a negative test to get back to work.”

Sefton council said a mobile testing unit will be set up in the Merseyside town tomorrow.

Teams will also go door to door delivering home testing kits.

Director of Public Health, Margaret Jones said: “Finding cases of the new South African Covid-19 variant and reducing the number of people who could be exposed to it is vital, which is why we are focusing testing facilities on the area and trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get tested.



Members of the public queue to enter a new Variant Testing Centre in Ealing, West London
Queues stretched down the road at this Ealing testing facility

“Anyone over 16 within the area can go along and get tested without an appointment and I would urge them to do so as soon as possible so we can nip any spread of the new variant in the bud.”

She urged residents to stay at home except for essential purposes, such as shopping for food and other supplies.

Southport’s Splash World centre is one of three walk-in venues in the borough of Sefton offering tests results in around 30 minutes.



People take Covid tests at a car park in Broxbourne
People take Covid tests at a car park in Broxbourne

Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

A testing centre in Broxbourne was packed this morning as health officials tried to pin down the South African Covid-19 variant.

Some 10,000 residents of the Hertfordshire town are being urged to get a test, whether symptomatic or not, in order to suppress the mutant strain.

Queues of cars and people packed the site, with door-to-door testing not due to start until Thursday.

But some were confused at the information given.



Man swabs own nose in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire
People swabbed themselves in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire

Roy Pateman and his wife Ann, both 74, were trying to get test at the Broxbourne Lido and Wildlife Park, having been unable to book one online.

“I tried to book an online test but there is nothing,” said Roy.

“It seems quite casual because we’re told we can go out and get a test before Thursday if we want, when Matt Hancock said yesterday we had to stay home.

“We couldn’t book online so we’ve come down to see if we can just get one.

“I think it’s just the one case of the South African variant, who hasn’t had links with the country, in Broxbourne.

“But it has to be done.”

Steve and Maxine Mason, both 59, said the main concern was what they should and should not be doing.

“Our neighbour was told not to go out anywhere so we’re not sure exactly what we should be doing,” said Steve.

Maxine added: “I heard the news and just thought ‘why Broxbourne?’

“It’s a lovely little place.

“We were told it was really busy at the testing centre so we just came to have a look on our walk.

“It’s just hard to get your head around but hopefully it gets sorted and (the variant) doesn’t get out of control.”

Marion Barrett, 80, said: “It won’t change much for me and my husband.

“We’re not doing anything and barely going to the shop so we’re staying as safe as possible.



A woman cleans up after a coronavirus test at a temporary testing facility in West Ealing
A woman cleans up after a test at a temporary facility in West Ealing

“We’ve both had the first dose of the vaccine so we just need to keep safe and hopefully there’ll soon be better times.”

Jim McManus, director of public health at Hertfordshire County Council, said: «It is vitally important that we test as many adults in this local area, whether showing symptoms or not.

«Although this new variant of Covid-19 is thought to be more easily transmitted, there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccine would not protect against it.»

He said the small number of cases detected were picked up by routine surveillance testing.

Lewis Cocking, leader of Broxbourne Council, said he did not want people to be alarmed.

«It is an isolated case but I am urging all members of the public that live in the EN10 postcode area, who are not showing symptoms, to either book an appointment online or use a home testing kit,» he added.



Testing kits are loaded into a vehicle at Woking Fire Station
Testing kits are loaded into a vehicle at Woking Fire Station

Woking, Surrey

Door-to-door deliveries of coronavirus tests in part of Woking are «a bit of a waste of time» if people are going to work, one local resident said.

Stewart Dawkins, 58, a key worker for a supermarket, said: «I think it’s a bit of a waste of time to be honest.

«They’ve asked you to do this (complete a test) but I’m OK to go to work yesterday.



Woking resident Kim Taylor, 39, swabs herself for Covid on her doorstep
Woking resident Kim Taylor, 39, swabs herself

«What about all the people I’ve gone and potentially passed it on to last night at work?»

Mr Dawkins said he already got tested every day at work but that the new local testing was still «a good thing».

He said the detection of the South African variant of coronavirus locally «does concern me».

He added: «Why don’t they say to people, why don’t you stay at home so it doesn’t spread?»

Woking resident Teresa Miller hailed efforts to deliver coronavirus tests in the area of the town where she lives.

The mother-of-two, who is still recovering from having earlier had coronavirus, said: «I think it’s a good idea to get it under control, obviously, as soon as possible just so we can go back to normal.»



Woking resident Kim Taylor swabs herself for Covid as part of the testing drive in Woking
Kim Taylor swabs herself for Covid as part of the testing drive in Woking

She added: «I’ve literally just got over it, I’m hoping I’m sort of immune to it.»

Ms Miller, 42, who works for Kingston University, said having coronavirus was «awful», with it leaving her feeling «exhausted» and «totally drained of energy».

She added: «Obviously it’s important that everyone gets tested and if it keeps it away, then that’s even better.»

One Woking resident receiving a delivery of a coronavirus test at her home on Tuesday said it was «concerning» that the South African variant had been detected locally.



Volunteers are briefed at Woking Fire Station before distributing tests
Volunteers are briefed at Woking Fire Station before distributing tests

Robyn Brunskill, 22, who works for a marketing agency, said: «It is quite concerning, especially if they are saying people who have it haven’t had any direct association with South Africa.

«That makes you worry about where it’s coming from and you’re more vulnerable than you think you are.»

Ms Brunskill said she worked from home but her plumber boyfriend had to go out to work.

She said: «It’s a bit concerning for people who still need to go (to) work. It doesn’t seem like there’s much support in place.



A mobile Test and Trace coronavirus testing centre at Walsall College
A mobile Test and Trace coronavirus testing centre at Walsall College

«If you still have to go to work, you have to go to work.»
She added: «I suppose you have to do as much as you can and try to stay at home and protect people.»

Walsall, West Midlands

In Walsall, the only obvious sign of activity was a new testing site set up in the car park of Walsall College.

Six workers in hi-vis jackets stood idly in the drizzle, with a slow trickle of cars driving onto the site to be tested.

A white sign reading “mobile testing centre” was stuck onto a yellow wheelie bin.



A mobile coronavirus information advert, asking residents for help in steming the spread of Covid-19, is driven past houses in Woking in Surrey
A mobile testing advert wheels through Woking, Surrey

By 11am there were more workers at the site than people being tested.

Two builders working nearby arrived to be tested, sitting at a white plastic table as the tests were carried out.

Afterwards one of them, who did not want to be named, told the Mirror: “Our boss wanted us to have the rest.

“He saw the news last night about the South African variant and said he wanted us all tested before we’re back on site.

“It’s fair enough really, it sounds like it’s really easy to catch it and we don’t want to take any chances.

“We live and work in the WS2 postcode, which is where the person who has it lives, so we’re being extra careful.

“We should get the results back in 24 hours, so fingers crossed we’re okay.”


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