Targeted testing to control spread of COVID-19 variant in parts of SO15

The targeted testing in SO15 5 has now ended. Thank you to everyone who has taken part and supported the national effort to learn more about the spread of COVID-19 variants in our communities.

Extensive surveillance of COVID-19 has identified a small number of cases of the variant of coronavirus first identified in South Africa in a small number of localities across England, including one in the SO15 5 area of Southampton, that cannot be traced back to international travel. The individual identified has self-isolated and full contact tracing has taken place.

SO15 area map

Local targeted testing

Working in partnership with NHS Test and Trace, Southampton City Council is asking every person aged 16 or over living in the SO15 5 postcode area to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test this week, even if they are not showing symptoms. The test involves taking a swab of the throat and nose.

The aim of the targeted testing exercise is to help better understand and prevent the spread of new variants. The risk of extensive transmission from a single South-African variant case is considered to be very low. There is currently no evidence to suggest this variant is more serious than others, or that the regulated vaccines will not protect against it.

Testing will, in combination with measures such as hands-face-space and lockdown measures, help to suppress and control the spread of COVID-19, while giving a better understanding of the new variant.

There are two ways you can receive your PCR test if you are in the SO15 5 area:

At home

The council and its partners will issue and collect home test kits for some properties.

Anyone who receives a home testing kit should follow the instructions given to them with that kit. The council is aiming to deliver and then collect testing packs on Thursday 18 February 2021.

Mobile Testing Unit

Anyone who lives in the SO15 5 postcode area but does not receive a pack to their home on Thursday 18 February should visit the mobile testing unit at Atherley Bowling Club, Hill Lane SO15 5DB.

It will be open from Thursday 18 February to Saturday 20 February (09.00-17.30).

Positive tests

Positive tests will be sequenced to identify any further spread of the new variant first discovered in South Africa, to give a better understanding of the variant and identifying if there are any more cases of this strain of the virus in the area.

If you test positive, or are contact traced by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app following close contact with someone who tests positive, you should self-isolate immediately and pass on details of their contacts to NHS Test and Trace.

Q and A for SO15 5

I live in the SO15 5 postcode area; has the stay at home guidance changed here?

No. The same national restrictions continue to apply in this area, including only leaving home for essential reasons – for example to go to work if you cannot work from home. Find out more about the restrictions.

What happens if I am Shielding?

If you get a home visit do the test safely at home, if not then to protect you don’t attend the mobile testing unit.

I live in this area and I haven’t been contacted?

If you are aged 16 or over and live in SO15 5 and have not been contacted, you should attend the mobile testing unit at Atherley Bowls Club to get a test.

How do I know if a test will be delivered to me or if I need to visit the Mobile Testing Unit?

If you get a letter through your letterbox on Wednesday 17 Feb 2021 then you will get a visit, if not and you still live in SO15 5, please visit the mobile testing unit.

What happens if I’m out when the test is delivered?

We are not putting tests though people letterboxes so if you miss the visit please go and get a test at the mobile site Thursday – Saturday.

Do I need to take part if I am already part of another coronavirus testing programme?

Yes please. The surge testing is about understanding the variant across an area and is a one off. Please continue with any other testing programme too as these are also important. 

When will residents get their test results?

If you test positive, you will be advised via the usual NHS Test and Trace routes. If you test positive to any COVID-19 strain you need to take the same actions; you will need to self-isolate for 10 days, and any household contacts will also need to self-isolate for 10 days from the date of your test (assuming you had no symptoms – if you had symptoms it would be from the date you became ill). There is no need to do anything different if testing positive to the South African variant.

I’m an employer in the SO15 5 area; should I keep my workforce home?

There are no special rules for this postcode area. People should continue to follow the national lockdown rules. Where employees have to leave home to attend work in the SO15 5 area, they can continue to do so. They should continue to observe key public health measures such as ‘hands, face, space’. In line with national guidance, we encourage anyone that can work from home to do so.

What about testing in schools? Will schools close?

The test is offered to residents aged 16 years and over as cases are most likely to be detected in this age-group, but this is not a schools-based initiative. At present, schools and colleges remain open to Vulnerable Children / Critical Worker Children and nurseries remain open, as this is essential. There are no instructions for education settings to close in areas where new variants have been identified.

Will it be safe to reopen schools if a new variant has now been found in the city?

At present, schools and colleges remain open to Vulnerable Children / Critical Worker Children and nurseries remain open, as this is essential. There are no instructions for education settings to close in areas where new variants have been identified.

Is there a need for a more stringent lockdown in the SO15 5 postcode area or even across the whole of the city now that the a new variant has been found in Shirley?

No. The same national restrictions continue to apply in this area, including only leaving home for essential reasons – for example to go to work if you cannot work from home.

 

Q and A for outside SO15 5

I live in a SO15 post code, or near SO15; will you be testing me?

We will be concentrating our testing efforts in and around a specific area where the new variant has been detected – which is SO15 5 only at this time. A very small number of properties outside SO15 5 will be receiving home test kits. There is no reason for anyone who lives outside SO15 5 to attend a mobile testing unit. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, however, you should book a test immediately via nhs.uk/coronavirus, the NHS COVID-19 app, or by calling 119.

Why aren’t we testing for the whole of Southampton/the whole country in this way?

‘Surge testing’ is being done in specific areas of the country where there are confirmed cases of a new variant, and where the case/s has no travel history to the affected countries or contact with a case who has. Public Health England have undertaken contact tracing and testing of close contacts of confirmed cases of the variant in Southampton. We will continue to take all steps necessary to protect the public and help prevent the spread of the virus.

We are in a nearby postcode; can we get tested?

We are focusing testing on those areas where we know we have confirmed cases of the variant. Anyone with symptoms should book a test at nhs.uk/coronavirus, via the NHS COVID-19 app, or by calling 119.

What if I have visited one of these areas recently?

Everyone should continue to follow the national guidance and book a test if they develop symptoms through the usual route.

How likely is it that this new variant has spread in other parts of the city or will spread in other parts of the city over the coming weeks?

Similar to the evidence collected from the variant first identified in the UK, there is some evidence that this variant can spread more easily than the ‘original’ version of the virus. Viruses often evolve and this is not unusual. Public Health England are carrying out work as a priority to understand the potential risk this variant may cause and the local targeted ‘surge’ testing programme is part of this. It is important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccines will not protect against it.

The best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules – wash our hands, wear a face covering and keep our distance from others.

Will those who work and shop in the SO15 5 postcode area get tested too?

We will be concentrating our testing efforts in and around a specific area where the new variant has been detected – which is SO15 5 only at this time. A very small number of properties outside SO15 5 will be receiving home test kits. There is no reason for anyone who lives outside SO15 5 to attend a mobile testing unit. Everyone should continue to follow the national guidance and book a test if they develop symptoms immediately via nhs.uk/coronavirus, the NHS COVID-19 app, or by calling 119.

Will surge testing be expanded across other areas of Southampton and if so in what areas?

We do not have plans to expand testing at this time.

 

Being tested

Which tests will you be using for this?

We will be asking individuals to take PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests, which involve taking a swab of the nose and throat. PCR testing is highly accurate, and the swabs will be sent to laboratories to determine the type of COVID-19 strain a positive case is carrying.

Who can get tested?

We will aim to test as many people as possible within the SO15 5 area who are aged 16 and over who are asymptomatic (not displaying symptoms).

Will standard PCR tests identify this variant?

Yes. The PCR test is a highly accurate test, which involves taking a swab of the throat and nose.

I have recently had COVID-19; should I still take a test?

If you have tested positive in a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test which includes taking a swab of your nose and throat within the last 90 days, you will not need to be tested unless you are already part of an existing pilot e.g. in your workplace.

If you tested positive using a lateral flow test (or rapid test), you are not excluded and should be tested.

I’ve been vaccinated; do I still need to do the test?

Yes. We are offering testing to everyone in the SO15 5 area aged 16 and over, even if they have been vaccinated.

Why are we testing over 16 years old only?

The test is offered to residents aged 16 years and over as cases are most likely to be detected in this age-group. Over 16s can go unaccompanied to a mobile testing unit.

Where is the test site?

The mobile testing unit is at Atherley Bowling Club, Hill Lane SO15 5DB. It will be open from Thursday 18 February to Saturday 20 February (09.00-17.30). The location of the mobile testing site is shown on this map.

How long will this last?

This targeted testing will last for three days (Thursday 18 February to Saturday 20 February) and will be kept under close review.

Why is it important?

This exercise is vital to the global response to the pandemic, allowing us to monitor and understand the evolution of new COVID-19 variants and respond with timely public health interventions.

What happens if a resident does not register their test kit?

The resident will not be provided with their test result - registration links the owner to a test. The resident is notified of their result by email and text message using the details provided during the registration process.

The resident does not have an email or mobile phone - can they still register their kit?

Yes, they will need to contact 119 for assistance. When speaking to the agent, they must identify themselves as ‘non-digital’ and the agent will complete the registration process capturing 'name' and 'date of birth'. The resident will need to call back 72 hours after taking the test. When the resident calls back, they must once again identify themselves as ‘non-digital’ and they will be transferred to a Tier 2 who will provide their test results.

When I get to the Mobile Testing Site, do I do the test myself?

Yes you will be supervised to self-test. There is guidance on how to do it by watching a short video. Staff will also observe to support you.

 

This variant - first identified in South Africa

Should people be worried?

It is right that we should be cautious about new variants, and we appreciate that people may be anxious in the current climate. The UK has a world-leading genomic sequencing capability. Public Health England are constantly on the lookout for any new variants, and their ability to identify them early will allow us to deploy public health interventions to keep people safe.

This variant of SARS-CoV-2 originated in South Africa. Viruses often evolve and this is not unusual. Public Health England are carrying out work as a priority to understand the potential risk this variant may cause. It is important to say that there is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccines will not protect against it.

The best way to stop infection is to stick to the rules – wash our hands, wear a face covering and keep our distance from others.

Is this variant more deadly?

There is currently no evidence that this variant causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccines will not protect against it.

Does this variant spread more easily?

Similar to the evidence collected from the variant first identified in the UK, there is some evidence that this variant can spread more easily than the ‘original’ version of the virus.

When was this variant first identified here?

It takes a few weeks between a positive test and a random sample being fully sequenced in a lab. The infection in Southampton occurred at the end of January. Read the latest data.

Do the current vaccines work against the variant originating in South Africa?

Public Health England and its partners closely monitor the spread of variants in the UK, rapidly investigating variant mutations in laboratories to determine their characteristics. They are continuing efforts to understand the effect of the variants on vaccine efficacy and there is currently no evidence to suggest that vaccines will be ineffective. If required, future vaccines could be redesigned and tweaked to be a better match to these variants, as is the case for seasonal flu vaccines.

Can you catch this variant or Covid twice?

There is still much we need to learn about COVID-19 variants but there is no evidence to date to suggest that contracting the South African variant is different to more widely circulating COVID-19 strain. 

 

Positive tests

What happens if my test comes back positive?

If you test positive, or are contact traced by NHS Test and Trace or the NHS COVID-19 app following close contact with someone who tests positive, you should self-isolate immediately and pass on details of your contacts to NHS Test and Trace. Enhanced contact tracing will be used to locate any individuals you have been in contact with.

Will I be told what variant of the virus I have contracted?

 It will take about 10 days to identify whether the strain is the one first discovered in South Africa, this is because specialised testing known as ‘genomic sequencing’ is required. Public Health England will be in touch with you if you have contracted this variant and there is a requirement for enhanced contact tracing. 

What is enhanced contact tracing?

  • Enhanced contact tracing of individuals testing positive with a variant of concern is where contact tracers will look back across an extended period in order to trace who an individual will have come into close contact with and determine the route of transmission
  • Other new cases in the vicinity of the positive case will be prioritised and managed by a dedicated team of contact tracers, with phone calls and the online facility for completion of contact tracing starting simultaneously

I can’t afford to self-isolate; what should I do?

If you are in work, on a low income and need to self-isolate and can't work from home, you can apply for a self-isolation payment.

 

The results

Once you have collated all the results what are you going to use that for?

The aim of the targeted testing exercise is to help better understand and prevent the spread of new variants.
 
This exercise is vital to the global response to the pandemic, allowing us to monitor and understand the evolution of new COVID-19 variants and respond with timely public health interventions.

What should residents do if they have not received their test results after 72 hours?

The resident should ensure that they have registered their kit. If it has been over 72 hours since they registered, they should then contact 119.