By Harry Thomas-Humphreys
A Stafford borough resident has tested positive for the South African variant of Covid-19, prompting the council to ask everyone in the town to get tested.
The individual, who has now recovered, tested positive in January and the South African variant was picked up as part of routine laboratory testing of positive samples.
Contact tracing has determined that the person had no known contact with people in the town whilst infectious and had no links to other areas with confirmed cases, leading to fears that community transmission of the variant may be taking place in Stafford.
Dr Nic Coetzee, consultant in communicable disease control for Public Health England Midlands, said: “With new variants emerging all the time and spreading more rapidly, it is not surprising that a case of the South African variant has been found in Staffordshire.
“While there is currently no evidence of the South African variant circulating in the community, we want to be proactive in testing people and stopping the spreading of infection. This is a timely reminder to everyone to continue to follow the rules, stay at home, and if they do have essential reasons to leave their home then get tested regularly.”
Dr Richard Harling, Director of Health and Care for Staffordshire County Council, said: “In Staffordshire we are asking everyone who has a legitimate reason for being out and about during lockdown, to make sure they get tested at least weekly at one of our community testing centres for people without symptoms.
“We know that one in three people who have the virus show no symptoms, and this will help us identify more people with Covid who should be isolating, which will help stop the spread of infection.
“In the case of residents who test positive in Stafford borough, we will also check to see whether they have the South African variant.”
The council has also pledged additional testing capacity and enhanced screening in an effort to keep the strain under control.
There is no evidence that the variant, which has also been found in nearby Walsall, causes more serious illness but scientists are concerned that its mutations may make it more transmissible.
The Pfizer vaccine has been tested against the variant and although it still appears to produce an immune response, it was proven to be less effective.
In tests against the Oxford-AstraZeneca version, the vaccine offered limited defence against the variant for mild disease but experts are confident it will still protect against severe disease.
Walk-in-testing for Stafford residents with no symptoms are available on the day without appointment, or can instead be booked in advance here. These sites are located at the Kingston Centre, the Grosvenor Centre and the Holmcroft Community Centre.
Residents with symptoms should book a test at the National Beaconside Regional Drive-Through Centre here.