Published: 14:39, 25 May 2021
| Updated: 09:40, 26 May 2021
Targeted Covid-19 testing is taking place at a Kent school after a case of the so-called Indian strain was detected.
The variant has been found in a positive sample at The King's School in Canterbury, where pupils and staff are undergoing PCR tests to see if the strain has spread further.
It comes as new figures show there have been 12 new cases of the Indian variant in the district - 41% of the total detected in Kent in the week up to May 14.
Only a handful of areas in the south east have recorded more cases of the variant across the same period, but the numbers still remain much lower than in other parts of the country where the strain has taken hold.
Specialists at Public Health England (PHE) are providing The King's School with support and expert advice, after a member of its community tested positive for the strain.
PHE says the patient's close contacts have been identified and "appropriate health protection advice" has been given, but it could not confirm whether the patient is a pupil or member of staff.
The King's School - a top private school catering for boarding and day pupils aged 13 to 18 - has not responded to KentOnline's requests for comment.
Emily Dobell, consultant in health protection at PHE South East, said: "The risk of further cases is low, but as a precaution the school is assisting in targeted PCR testing to find out if this variant has spread more widely. We are closely monitoring all variant Covid-19 cases in the south east and acting to stop the onward spread of infection.
“Our public health advice to everyone remains the same: the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to remember hands, face, space and fresh air, and follow the restrictions in place.”
Ms Dobell added that while there is currently no evidence that the Indian variant causes more severe illness or increased risk of death, there are concerns that some variants may reduce the effects of immunity acquired through vaccination or previous infection.
Meanwhile, the Scientific Advisory Group for emergencies (Sage) has said there is a “realistic possibility” that the Indian coronavirus variant could be as much as “50% more transmissible” than the Kent strain.
To track the spread of the Indian strain quickly, scientists have been testing positive Covid samples for something known as the S gene, which is not present in the Kent variant but is detected in the Indian strain.
Coronavirus is on the rise in Kent, with 193 cases reported in the seven days up to May 19 - up 32 from the previous week.
Canterbury - where students at the University of Kent are also being tested for the strain - has seen the biggest jump - with the spread of the Indian variant believed to be a significant factor.
The district reported 59 Covid-19 cases in the week up to May 19 - a 269% increase on the previous week.
Meanwhile, the week up to May 19 saw a weekly rise of 250% in Sevenoaks cases; while Tonbridge and Malling saw a jump of 233% - although teh case numbers remain low.
Elsewhere in the county, cases fell. Folkestone and Hythe saw the biggest drop, as cases fell from 10 to three, while Ashford, Thanet and Swale also saw numbers decrease.
The most recent official data for the Indian strain only goes up to May 14.
The week up to May 14 saw 29 new S gene cases in Kent, which accounted for about 20% of the county's Covid cases - despite only half of its positive Covid tests being sent for S gene testing.
Twelve of those 29 cases were reported in Canterbury.
Alternative figures by the Wellcome Sanger Institute have the number of cases even higher, sparking a warning for the public to be vigilant by the leader of Dartford Borough Council.
Indian variant cases are likely to have increased further in the 11 days since May 14.
The variant has taken hold elsewhere in the country, including Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and Bedford.
For further information about variants, visit the Government's website.
Meanwhile, opening hours at the county's asymptomatic testing centres are being slashed amid an increase in home testing.
Kent’s interim Director of Public Health, Allison Duggal, said: “I am hugely encouraged by the take up of home testing kits from pharmacies and online. A home test is quick and easy to do and, with everyone getting out and about and socialising more, it is so important that we keep testing, testing, testing to identify any positive cases and continue to prevent the spread of the virus. Please remember to register your test result online so we receive a record of how many people are taking tests.
“We are all aware there are Covid-19 variants emerging that could be more transmissible than other strains. The good news is that we are confident that the vaccine can protect against it but, vaccinated or not, regular testing is vital if we are to stop cases increasing in Kent as they are in other parts of the UK."
A third of people with Covid have no symptoms and there are asymptomatic testing centres in each part of Kent but from next Tuesday until Wednesday, June 30 the following changes will be taking place:
The testing site at Sheerness Working Men’s Club will be open from 9am to 7pm on Saturday and closed on Sunday. The sites at Sandwich and Sheerness will be closing down on Friday, June 25.