Surge testing will begin in parts of east London after several cases of the South African and Brazilian variants of coronavirus were detected, according to the Department of Health.
NHS test and trace will be working with the council in Tower Hamlets to provide extra testing in the E1 postcode from Sunday, along with genome sequencing, which helps establish the variant that someone has been infected with.
Authorities did not say how many cases of the variants had been discovered, saying only that several cases of the B.1.351 strain first recorded in South Africa and the P1 stain first recorded in Brazil had been identified.
All confirmed cases are now self-isolating, the department said. It also said there was no connection between the cases discovered in east London and the cluster found in south London recently.
Pilot scheme could lead to end of self-isolation in England
A major new pilot scheme could see the end of people in England having to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has Covid.
The government-backed research will trial giving people daily lateral flow tests for seven days instead of asking people quarantine for 10 days.
After each negative test, they can continue their lives as normal.
From 9 May, about 40,000 close contacts of people with Covid in England will be invited to take part in the study.
Currently people who are alerted that they have been in close contact with someone with Covid must self-isolate, staying in their homes and not leaving for any reason.
During the major new study, people will have to test themselves every morning for seven days and if they test negative will be exempt from the legal requirement to quarantine at home, as long as they do not show any symptoms of Covid.
Lateral flow tests give results in about 30 minutes but are considered less sensitive than PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. PCR tests which are processed in a laboratory with results returned in 24 hours or so.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said:
With around one in three people not showing any symptoms, regular testing is already playing a critical role in helping us reclaim our lost freedoms – quickly spotting positive cases, helping identify new variants and squashing any outbreaks.
At every stage of this global pandemic, the British public has stepped up and made huge sacrifices – including self-isolating when they are asked. This new pilot could help shift the dial in our favour by offering a viable alternative to self-isolation for people who are contacts of positive Covid-19 cases, and one that would allow people to carry on going to work and living their lives.
Alongside the phenomenal progress of our vaccination rollout – with over 48 million vaccines administered so far – rapid testing is allowing us to get back to doing the things we all love.
Professor Isabel Oliver, National Infection Service Director at Public Health England and study lead, said:
We know that isolating when you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 is challenging but it remains vitally important to stop the spread of infection. This study will help to determine whether we can deploy daily testing for contacts to potentially reduce the need for self-isolation, while still ensuring that chains of transmission are stopped.
Contacts of cases are at higher risk of infection so testing them is a very effective way of preventing further spread. This study will play an important part of our evaluation of daily contact testing and how the approach to testing might evolve.
Between May 2020 and April 2021 in England, more than 6.7 million close contacts were reached and told to self-isolate, NHS Test and Trace data shows.
A large study of the test-and-trace system last month found few people had followed the self-isolation rules in full.
The groups less likely to self-isolate were men, younger people and parents with young children, people from working-class backgrounds, key workers and those in financial hardship.