'If surge testing doesn't work, England may see local COVID restrictions', expert warns

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·4-min read

Watch: Local restrictions may be needed if surge testing fails, expert warns

With surge testing operations widened across London after more cases of the South African variant of coronavirus were found, one expert has warned of a return of localised restrictions.

Three boroughs in south London have set up additional testing facilities to process thousands of residents, while a case of the variant was also detected in Barnet, north London.

Now Professor Johns Edmunds, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) that advises the government on the pandemic, has warned that if the surge testing does not work, local restrictions could be enforced.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston, Edmunds said: “I think what we are looking at in south London is a sort of example of what we’ll see now in the coming months as we try our best to keep that variant out or as low a level as we possibly can.

People stand in line for coronavirus surge testing on Clapham Common, south London. Thousands of residents have queued up to take coronavirus tests at additional facilities set up after new cases of the South African variant were found in two south London boroughs. 44 confirmed cases of the variant have been found in Lambeth and Wandsworth, with a further 30 probable cases identified. Picture date: Wednesday April 14, 2021. (Photo by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images)
People stand in line for coronavirus surge testing on Clapham Common, south London. (Getty)

“If these mass testing events don’t work that well… then it’s possible that we will have to impose some sort of local restrictions back in place.

“Nobody wants to do it, that’s why it’s so important that we test this testing system as robustly as we can and hopefully that is going to be sufficient to keep cases low.”

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed that the case in Barnet was unrelated to other clusters, but it had been isolated and the person’s contacts traced.

More than half a million adults living in south London boroughs have been offered tests, including 264,000 in Lambeth, 265,000 in Wandsworth, and 14,800 in the Rotherhithe ward of Southwark.

Some 44 confirmed cases of the variant have been found in Lambeth and Wandsworth, with a further 30 probable cases, the DHSC said.

Thousands of people queued up at pop-up testing facilities offering PCR tests on Tuesday and Wednesday, and marshals said they had warned that waiting times could be up to two hours.

People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through those areas are being urged to take a PCR test, on top of twice-weekly rapid testing.

People take part in coronavirus surge testing on Clapham Common, south London. Thousands of residents have queued up to take coronavirus tests at additional facilities set up after new cases of the South African variant were found in two south London boroughs. 44 confirmed cases of the variant have been found in Lambeth and Wandsworth, with a further 30 probable cases identified. Picture date: Wednesday April 14, 2021. (Photo by Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images)
Signs in Wandsworth urge people to only come out to be tested for coronavirus. (Getty)

Facilities set up in Wandsworth include centres at Wandsworth Town Hall, Tooting Leisure Centre and Mount Clare House, Roehampton, with more opening in Putney on Thursday.

Pop-up centres in Lambeth included Clapham Common, Brockwell Park, and Lambeth Town Hall.

Home-testing kits are available for collection by residents at multiple sites.

Additional testing has been set up by NHS Test and Trace in the SE16 area of Southwark, after a case was linked to the cluster in Wandsworth and Lambeth.

The DHSC said the person had been identified and was self-isolating, and their contacts had been traced.

Barnet Council said although the single case of the variant had been traced, residents in Finchley N3 were “strongly encouraged” to take a PCR test, even if asymptomatic.

People check their paper-work as they queue to take a Covid-19 test at a mobile novel coronavirus testing centre on Clapham Common in south London, on April 13, 2021. - Britain said late Monday it had hit a target to offer a coronavirus vaccine first dose to all over-50s by mid-April, as England's lockdown-weary population toasted a significant easing of restrictions with early morning pints and much-needed haircuts. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
People check their paperwork as they queue to take a COVID test at a mobile coronavirus testing centre on Clapham Common in south London. (Getty)

Downing Street has insisted the outbreak is being taken “very seriously” and “strong measures” have been put in place to prevent it spreading.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Additional surge testing and sequencing has been successfully rolled out in a number of targeted locations to help us suppress, control and better understand COVID-19 variants in circulation.

“Surge testing has been well received by the public in those areas, with thousands of tests completed and thousands of genomes sequenced.”

Yahoo News UK has contacted the DHSC for a comment on Prof Edmund’s remarks.

London’s regional director of Public Health England said vaccines and surge testing are part of a “package of interventions” for managing life with coronavirus in future.

“As we begin to recirculate in society, we want to encourage everybody to get vaccinated,” Professor Kevin Fenton told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“That certainly gives us additional protection. But we need to continue to practise our preventive measures, and we need to do the surge testing if we find variants in order to contain them.

“These are the package of interventions that we will need to be getting used to as we enter this new normal of living with COVID and managing our lives with COVID for the near future.”

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