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Initial findings show the South African Covid variant has not been found after Maidstone surge testing operation


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Initial findings show the South African Covid variant has not been detected during surge testing carried out in parts of Maidstone last month, the government has said.

The huge operation, which saw 9,633 tests delivered in three days and emergency service workers going door-to-door to drop off swabs, finished on February 4, but the final results have yet to be published.

Emergency service workers went door-to-door in February asking residents in parts of Maidstone to take a Covid test Picture: Barry Goodwin
Emergency service workers went door-to-door in February asking residents in parts of Maidstone to take a Covid test Picture: Barry Goodwin

The surge testing was in response to a case of the South African variant being found in the ME15 postcode, which couldn't be linked to international travel or other variant cases.

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson however has confirmed that initial findings show no variant of concern cases have been found, but the data is being "quality assured" before finally being published.

Last month, Cllr Martin Cox, leader of Maidstone Borough Council, slammed the government for the delay in sequencing, as after more than ten days only around a quarter of the 400 positive tests had been analysed for the variant.

He said he had been told the sequencing would only take four days.

Last week, a DHSC spokesperson said: “Additional surge testing and sequencing has been successfully deployed in a number of targeted areas to help supress, control and grow our shared understanding of Covid-19 variants.

Emergency service workers went door-to-door, asking people to take Covid tests in parts of Maidstone Picture: Barry Goodwin
Emergency service workers went door-to-door, asking people to take Covid tests in parts of Maidstone Picture: Barry Goodwin

"The response from the public to this has been overwhelmingly positive in these areas, with thousands of tests completed in every impacted locality.

“PHE regularly shares data on variants with local directors of public health and further data on surge testing will be published as soon as possible, once the information has been validated.

"No Variant of Concern (VOC) cases have been found in the samples analysed so far from the Maidstone area however surveillance continues.”

A spokesperson later clarified that initial findings show no VOC cases have been found but the data is still being quality assured before finally published.

Quality assurance ensures that the data provided to local authorities from the government meets the standards of the UK statistics authority.

Cllr Martin Cox, leader of Maidstone Borough Council, has said the delays in the surge testing results could affect the public's attitude towards the government
Cllr Martin Cox, leader of Maidstone Borough Council, has said the delays in the surge testing results could affect the public's attitude towards the government

The department did not respond when asked how many of the positive tests found had been sequenced.

In mid-February, Andrew Scott-Clark, director of public health for Kent, said that around 400 people in the ME15 postcode tested positive as part of the operation and around a quarter had been sequenced, with no South African variant found.

Cllr Cox said the delay of the results would affect the public's attitude towards the government.

He said: "I think the public support and willingness to help will slip away with every day."

He added this could affect the public's willingness to get asymptomatic tests, which MBC is encouraging.

Surge testing has been carried out in numerous other areas of the country, such as Surrey,Worcester and Liverpool, in response to South African variants of Covid-19 being discovered.

According to the government, on average the process of genome sequencing is 10 days, but it is a complex process and this timeline can vary.

Maidstone residents react to wait for results

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