SURGE testing has been deployed for anyone over the age of 12 in two areas of Berkshire to help halt the spread of the Indian variant.
From Monday, people living in certain postcode areas of Reading and Wokingham will be offered PCR Covid testing over the next two weeks after the strain was found to be spreading in the community.
🔵 Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest updates
The Department of Health said the confirmed cases in the area “have been contacted and instructed to self-isolate and their contacts have been identified”.
Meradin Peachey, director of public health for Berkshire West, said cases are mainly among young people – with “virtually nobody over 60 or anyone who has been vaccinated”.
“What’s happened in the last couple of weeks, especially in the last week, we’ve noticed that a lot of cases now coming through we can’t link to any travellers, which means we now have community transmission,” she told BBC Breakfast.
She said a “big concern” is the continued spread could lead to more mutations.
“If the variant spreads and becomes even more, it may mutate again and the big concern is that vaccines won’t work and that’s my big concernm” Peachey said.
“We really want to get people tested and isolated if they’ve got the virus, stop the spread so that we can make sure the vaccination programme work.”
The surge testing in Berkshire is to be rolled out in the RG1 3, RG1 5, RG1 6 and RG1 7 postcodes in Reading, and in the Bulmershe and Whitegates, Evendons, Norreys, and Wescott areas of Wokingham.
People aged 12 and above who live or work in these areas have been strongly encouraged to take a rapid test, whether they are showing Covid symptoms or not, the Department of Health said.
The Department of Health has also launched additional testing and genomic sequencing in Bradford, Canterbury and Maidstone after cases of the strain, also known as the Delta variant, were found.
On Thursday, Public Health England said the Indian variant is now believed to be dominant in the UK – with cases rising 79 percent from the previous week.
And face masks and social distancing could remain in place after June 21 as the UK grapples with the new Indian variant.
One source told The i it would be “irresponsible” to relax the rules too quickly as it could lead to another “full lockdown in autumn”.
But pub giants and football fans have urged Boris Johnson to stay firm on his pledge to lift lockdown on June 21.
The battle cry came amid fears that delays could plunge England’s hosting of the Euros into chaos.
Ministers and officials are working on contingency plans to move “Freedom Day” to next month, as well as retaining distancing and limits on fans in stadiums.
But Kate Nicholls, of UK Hospitality warned that even a two-week delay to ending lockdown would cost the industry £1.5billion.
She added: “This needs to be a full and final unlocking. Our businesses are running out of road, particularly given Government support is withdrawn from June 30.”
Greene King chief exec Nick Mackenzie said it was “incredibly important” the Government stick to its plan.
“After the year we’ve had, and the millions the industry has invested in making pubs safe any delay would be a devastating blow,” he said.
“Bringing people together to watch the game on the big screen is what we do. Being able to do that again this summer will give us a fighting chance of rebuilding after a crippling 15 months.”
Those pushing for a delay to the lifting of lockdown argue it would allow more Brits to get at least their first jab.
‘BROKEN THE CHAIN’
Vaccines have “broken the chain” between catching the virus and becoming seriously ill, Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said today.
Hopson said the number of people in hospital with the variant was not increasing “very significantly”.
Those in hospital in hotspot Bolton – which has the highest number of cases of the Indian variant in England – are younger than seen previously in the pandemic.
Hopson told BBC Breakfast: “The people who came in this time round were actually a lot younger and were a lot less at risk of very serious complication, less at risk of death, and what that means is that they were less demand on critical care.
“What we think we can start to say now, based on that experience, is that it does look as though the vaccines have broken the chain between catching Covid-19 and potentially being very, very seriously ill and potentially dying.
“There were very, very few people who have had those double jabs and had been able to have that build-up of protection after those jabs.”
Ministers and medics would also have more time to study data if “Freedom Day” was delayed, with infections worryingly back at March levels.
Yesterday saw 11 new deaths and 6,238 cases recorded, compared with ten deaths and 4,182 cases the previous Friday.
“Professor Lockdown” Neil Ferguson has warned the Indian variant could yet be 100 percent more transmissible than other strains.
He said the Prime Minister had a “very difficult judgment call” on whether to unlock in 16 days.
The crucial R rate is also as high as 1.2, according to Sage – meaning the virus is up again.
Public Health England said 278 people with the Indian variant attended A&Es in England last week, resulting in 94 overnight admissions.