SURGE Covid testing is being deployed in three new areas after more cases of the South African variant were found.
The Government is extending rapid testing to Middlesbrough, Walsall and Hampshire to help monitor and suppress the strain’s spread.
Additional surge testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to targeted areas in Middlesbrough within TS7 postcodes.
It is also being launched in parts of Walsall, and in specific areas in the RG26 postcode in Hampshire where the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found.
People living within these areas are strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test this week, whether they are showing symptoms or not.
People with symptoms should book a test in the usual way, and those without symptoms should visit their local authority website for more information.
A case of the South African variant of Covid-19 has been identified in the village of Bramley, near Basingstoke, Hampshire.
Residents of the area aged over 16 will next week be subject to a surge-testing programme in a bid to find any further cases of the variant.
But Simon Bryant, director of public health at Hampshire County Council, has told people not to panic.
He said: “I appreciate that this news may be worrying for the local community, but it’s really important to understand that the risk of transmission from this single case is considered to be very low.
“This is helped by the fact that national restrictions are in place, with most people staying at home and adhering to the Government guidance of ‘hands, face, space’.
“Furthermore, there is no evidence that this particular variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccines do not protect against it.
“Following confirmation of the case and in line with Government guidelines, the county council has begun work with Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council, Public Health England, our local NHS, as well as the Department of Health and Social Care, to arrange a localised surge-testing programme in the area. This is due to begin next week.
“The rapid local testing programme is primarily a precautionary measure designed to help the Government to better understand and prevent the spread of new variants across the country.”
Middlesbrough currently has the fifth highest infection rate in England, according to Public Health England data.
As of February 8, the rate per 100,000 people stood at 357.5, down slightly from 359.6 the week before.
Esther Mireku, consultant in public health in Middlesbrough, said: “I urge everyone over the age of 16 in the Marton and Coulby Newham areas to come forward for a test.
“This will help us understand more about the potential spread of this new variant.
“While the overall Covid infection rate in Middlesbrough has now halved from its peak in early January, it has still not decreased as much as we would have liked.
“The high prevalence of Covid in the town, combined with the reporting of this variant, are a reminder to everyone of the importance of staying at home as much as possible and following hands-face-space when out for an essential reason.”
Local mayor Andy Preston said: “New variants are popping up in different towns and cities around the country.
“What’s really important now is that we establish whether the variant has spread further around Middlesbrough.”
Tees Valley’s elected mayor Ben Houchen said people in the area should not be “overly alarmed”.
He said: “Our region has made phenomenal progress in vaccinating the majority of our most vulnerable residents thanks to the hard work and dedication of our NHS heroes.”
Mr Houchen said it was still critical for people to follow the rules to protect others.
Surge testing in the Egham and Broxbourne areas, which began on February 6 and February 1, is now complete.
People living in areas of Lambeth in south London, as well as parts of Worcestershire, Manchester, Kent and Surrey have all been offered tests when cases of new strains have been identified.