SURGE tests to weed out more cases of the South African variant have been deployed in the West Midlands.
Teams have been rolled out to the Sandwell area to offer more tests to locals, after infections of the mutation has been found.
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A Department of Health statement today said: "The increased testing is being introduced in addition to existing extensive testing and, in combination with the public following current lockdown rules and Hands Face Space advice, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus.
"Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help increase our understanding of Covid-19 variants and their spread within these areas.
"Enhanced contact tracing will be used for individuals testing positive with a variant of concern. This is where contact tracers look back over an extended period in order to determine the route of transmission.
"People living within the targeted area are strongly encouraged to take a Covid-19 test when offered, whether they are showing symptoms or not.
"People with symptoms should book a free test online or by phone so they can get tested at a testing site or have a testing kit sent to them at home."
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Testing doesn't currently detect whether someone has the South African strain but they will be sent to the lab to be sequenced to identify any more cases of the particular strand in the area.
Scientists have warned the mutation, named 501YV2, is feared to be at least 50 per cent more contagious, with hundreds more undetected cases thought to be in the country.
Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London and a member of SAGE, said: "This variant is identified through genetic sequencing and we sequence between five per cent and 10 per cent of all cases, so you can immediately tell from that that we have a big under-estimation of the number of cases.
"We would expect we're seeing the tip of the iceberg of community transmission."
British scientists warned the South African variant may be more deadly than the original strain.
In January experts on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), who feed into the government advisory group SAGE, have been analysing the mutation.
They said that data showed “a hint of increased mortality”.
But they cautioned there has not been detailed research into the mortality of the South African variant, as there has been with the Kent one, so they cannot be confident in the finding.
There is not yet any evidence to suggest that symptoms differ from the three Covid-19 symptoms already highlighted by the NHS.
The three main coronavirus symptoms are a new persistent cough, a high temperature and a loss of taste and smell (anosmia).
If you have any of these symptoms then you should isolate immediately and get a test.
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