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South African Covid-19 variant surge testing slammed by Maidstone Borough Council leader over delays in results

The leader of Maidstone Borough Council has criticised the government as residents are still awaiting results from the surge testing in the area, which was completed more than 10 days ago.

Cllr Martin Cox says he was told that the analysis of the positive Covid-19 test results, to discover if they were South African variant, would take four days, but so far only around a quarter of the tests have been sequenced.

Watch: The leader of Maidstone Borough Council responds to the delays in surge testing results

The huge operation, which saw 9,633 tests delivered in three days and emergency service workers going door-to-door to drop off swabs in part of Maidstone, finished on February 4.

It 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.

Andrew Scott-Clark, director of public health for Kent, has announced that around 400 people in the ME15 postcode tested positive for Covid-19 during the drive, and of the 100 so far analysed, no variant has been found.

But that still leaves hundreds of tests waiting to be sequenced.

Speaking about the delay, Cllr Cox said he was "feeling a little bit short on the temper. When the government bodies initially came to us there was this sense of urgency and through the Kent Resilence Forum and KCC we sprang into action.

A massive surge testing operation was launched in Maidstone. Picture: Rapid Relief
A massive surge testing operation was launched in Maidstone. Picture: Rapid Relief

"The police came forward, fire crews, rescue crews, indeed our own MBC staff stepped up... and indeed the residents stepped up.

"The residents came forward. They did receive whether they had a positive or a negative test within 24 hours, some within six or eight hours but what is important and what the government said to us was we need to find the one case that we have in Maidstone that we know of is more prevalent than just that so I think when we've asked the residents to step up, we should know that the government can step up and back up what they are asking us to do.

"When they intially set this out they said you'll get the negative or positive results in 24 hours, tick, we got that, but then the sequencing of those same tests, we were told that would take up to four days. Well I'm afraid we are ten days."

Kent's director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark Picture: John Nurden
Kent's director of public health Andrew Scott-Clark Picture: John Nurden

"Everybody stepped up including the residents and they have a right to know. We need to know what's the appropriate action and potentially the sort of action we could take, but we are ten days beyond that.

"They can't react this slowly or if they were going to, they needed to tell us."

Cllr Cox said he repeatedly asked KCC to push the Government to release the results.

Director of public health for Kent, Andrew Scott-Clark, said: “We worked very hard to get the testing done so quickly, and the response from everyone in the ME15 affected areas was brilliant.

Thanks to so many people taking part, and the huge effort of the army of volunteers, more than 12,000 tests were collected in less than 5 days.

"Unfortunately, although anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 at the time was notified, we are still waiting for the more in- depth results, as any positive tests continue to be analysed for variants by the Department for Health.

However, we do know that around 400 people in the ME15 postcodes tested positive during the targeted testing period, which means that we were able to identify hundreds of people who isolated as a result. Consequently more people were prevented from unknowingly spreading the virus.

We have been assured that work on analysing the positive results for the South African variant is still ongoing at the Department for Health, and we continue to ask for the results on a daily basis. We have been told that about a quarter of the results have been analysed so far and that no variant has been found, which is positive news.

"We can assure all residents who took part that we will publish the findings in full as soon as we have received them and wish to thank them again for the part they played in this important operation.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said:

“Additional surge testing and sequencing is being deployed in a number of targeted locations to help control and suppress the spread of detected Covid-19 variants, while enabling better understanding of these variants.

“Thousands of tests have been provided to Local Authorities, and further data on surge testing will be provided in due course.”

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