An unknown person infected with the dangerous new variant of Covid, originally found in Brazil, has now been traced to Croydon, officials have disclosed.
Officials believe the person has not infected anybody else as they were self-isolating after a trip to Brazil, however extra testing is being carried out around parts of South London as a precaution, including their contacts.
The specific location of the person has not been disclosed, buyt Croydon Council said it would be working alongside the NHS Test and Trace to provide extra testing in South Norwood and Thornton Heath area.
From Tuesday, the council will be delivering home test kits to some households in the area. Anybody over the age of 16 in these areas will be asked to take a Covid-19 test, regardless of symptoms.
It was announced last week that six people in the UK were carrying the mutation, known as P1, but that one person could not be identified because they took a test but failed to provide any contact details.
It took five full days and a team of 40 people to carry out the search.
All adults should get a test
Rachel Flowers, Croydon’s Director of Public Health, said in a statement: “Following the identification of a Covid-19 case with the variant first identified in Brazil, we will be asking everyone living in the South Norwood and Thornton Heath area to get tested, whether or not they have symptoms.
“We are launching extra testing, delivering home test kits to some households from Sunday, and will share more information as soon as we can.
“By getting tested, you can help to prevent the virus spreading, protecting yourself and your loved ones while enabling better understanding of this variant. There is currently no evidence to suggest this variant of Covid-19 is more serious than others, or that the vaccine would not protect against it.”
The director added: “The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – follow the lockdown rules and remember hands, face, space – wash your hands, cover your face and keep your distance from others. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”
Public Health England (PHE) worked with postal and courier services to determine where the test may have travelled in order to find the person.
In a Downing Street news briefing on Friday afternoon, Health Secretary, Matt Hancock first disclosed that the person had been found: “Using the latest technology and with the dogged determination of our Testing and Tracing scheme, we have successfully identified the person in question.
“The best evidence is that this person stayed at home and there is no evidence of onward transmission but as a precaution we are putting more testing in in Croydon where they live to minimise the possibility of spread.”
Dr Susan Hopkins, Strategic Response Director at Public Health England, told the briefing: “Specialist teams from NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England immediately launched an investigation to identify the individual concerned.
“An incident team of 40 people from across the system made up of laboratories, logistics, data analytic experts were mobilised to trace the individual.”
The discovery, via reading the test barcode, that the sample had arrived at the Cambridge Lighthouse through the DHL service for home delivery helped narrow it down to two regions made up of 10,000 possible households.
This was then narrowed further to 379 households with “enhanced contact tracing” then kicking-in, with call handlers contacting those who could have received a test in that time interval, scaling it down to 27 individuals before the person then came forward.
Scientists are saying the mutation appears to be more contagious than any other strain, and that they are concerned the vaccines may not be as effective against it.
It was able to infect 25% to 61% of the people in a city in Brazil who probably expected to be immune after a first attack of the disease.
However, one of the main researchers on the case said it was unlikely the variation would spread through the UK as only six cases have been identified so far and are being closely monitored.
Infectious diseases expert Prof Ester Sabino, from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, said: “You need many introductions [of a virus] to start an epidemic. Six is very few. I would say if you take care and do contact tracing, this is going to decrease.”
So far two-fifths of all adults in the UK have now had their first dose of the vaccine. The number of deaths is decelerating, by approximately 41% in the last week, suggesting the programme is working as promised.