After a week-long, nationwide manhunt, health officials have traced a mystery person with the Brazilian variant of covid-19 to Croydon.
Additional coronavirus testing resources are being deployed to the borough as a consequence, with an expectation that “surge testing” may be carried out in the immediate neighbourhood of the individual, in a similar manner to that which was used in New Addington, Streatham and Pollards Hill to locate cases of the South African variant.
The person found to have the Brazil variant is in South Norwood, according to the borough’s director of public health, Rachel Flowers.
Tonight, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that he was “really, really delighted” that the test and trace team had successfully identified the patient. The government has just allocated an additional £15billion to the funding for test and trace, bringing the total spend on the much-criticised system to £37billion.
Hancock said officials believe the person had self-isolated at home, and that there had been no onward transmission.
Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Hancock said, “Thanks to the brilliant team who have been working so hard over the past week we have now successfully identified the sixth case of the variant of concern first identified in Manaus in Brazil.
“Using the latest technology and with the dogged determination of our testing and tracing team we’ve successfully identified the person in question.
“The best evidence is that the person in question stayed at home and there’s no sign of any onward transmission. But as a precaution we’re putting more testing in in Croydon where they live to minimise the risk of spread.”
It was announced on Sunday that six cases of the P1 variant had been found in the UK, but the government had been unable to locate one of them. Three cases were found in England, and separately three in Scotland.
The three cases in Scotland were all oil workers who were returning to their families from Brazil, via Paris and London. Health officials have been trying to trace all the passengers who were on their flight from Heathrow to Aberdeen.
In England, two of the cases are from the same household in South Gloucestershire who tested positive after someone returned from Brazil on February 10. The third, Croydon case was not linked.
It has been suggested that the Croydon case was located by the “dogged determination” of the test and trace system when the person concerned phoned the authorities themself on Wednesday afternoon.
Flowers issued a statement which said, “Importantly, I want to assure you all that there is no evidence of onwards transmission. But, as a precaution, we will be working with NHS test and trace to introduce extra testing in the area from next week, as we’ve recently done in New Addington and Fieldway.”
Flowers was not able to provide more information on how the testing will be conducted. “It’s likely to involve asking everyone living in the South Norwood area over the age of 16 to take a test, whether or not they have symptoms.
“Positive tests will be sequenced to identify any further spread of the variant, enabling a better understanding of this particular strand of the virus and identifying if there are any more cases in the area.”
Flowers said that there would be no additional restrictions in place in the area, nor would it affect pupils’ return to school on Monday. Flowers said, “Residents in the area can still leave their homes for essential reasons – for example to work, if they cannot work from home, to attend medical appointments and to get food and other supplies.
Scientists say the Brazil variant appears to be more contagious. There are also concerns vaccines may not be as effective against it – but NHS England experts say vaccines can be “rapidly adapted”.
The Brazil variant has been designated “of concern” because it shares some important mutations with the variant first identified in South Africa.
Earlier this week, preliminary data from Manaus – the Brazilian city hit hardest by this variant – suggested it could be up to twice as transmissible as earlier covid. One of the lead researchers said it was unlikely P1 would quickly take off in Britain when only six cases had been identified and these were being closely monitored.
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