Calls for tougher quarantine over South African coronavirus variant cluster

David Hughes, Mike Bedigan and Taz Ali, PA
·4-min read

Ministers are under pressure to tighten quarantine laws after a cluster of cases of the South African coronavirus variant were found in London.

Extra testing facilities were set up in two south London boroughs after dozens of cases of the variant were detected.

Downing Street insisted the outbreak was being taken “very seriously” and “strong measures” had been put in place to prevent the spread of the variant.

But Labour said the development was “deeply concerning” because of concerns that vaccines could be less effective against variants.

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Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has written to Priti Patel to call for a “comprehensive” hotel quarantine system.

The BBC reported that the outbreak appears to have been triggered by an individual who travelled from Africa in February.

According to documents seen by the broadcaster, the country involved was not on the red list for mandatory hotel quarantine at that time, but is now.

In his letter to the Home Secretary, Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “Labour has consistently called for a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, to do everything possible to stop variants reaching the UK.

“However, the UK Government has refused to act on these warnings and the prospects of further outbreaks remain incredibly concerning.

“Sadly the outbreak in south London is an example of what can occur when action is not taken.”

HEALTH Coronavirus ONS
(PA Graphics)

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “I think this is something that we are taking very seriously and the effective surge testing processes that we have in place have been working well here.

“We know that variants do pose a risk, it’s one of our four tests for the progression of the road map. But… we have strong measures in place to find and isolate any new cases.”

Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that he could not “see any reason” to deviate from the road map, which would see further lockdown restrictions lifted on May 17 in England.

Some 44 confirmed cases of the variant have been found in Lambeth and Wandsworth, with a further 30 probable cases identified, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through those areas are being urged to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, on top of twice-weekly rapid testing.

Lambeth Council said eight additional testing sites have opened across the borough from Monday and facilities are also available in Wandsworth.

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For people who test positive, a “comprehensive” self-isolation support service is available which includes payments of up to £500 for residents on low incomes.

The DHSC said the operation is the “largest surge testing operation to date”, aimed at suppressing any possible new cases of the variant, with positive results from PCR testing to be sent for genomic sequencing at specialist labs.

It said all those who have tested positive for the variant, with the first case in the area being found in early March, are isolating or have completed their isolation, and their contacts have been traced and asked to isolate.

Director of public health for Lambeth, Ruth Hutt, said: “It is vital that all Lambeth residents take an asymptomatic PCR test so that we can identify all cases in order to stop the spread of this variant of concern.

“Alongside taking a PCR test, we are asking everyone who lives and works in the borough to continue following the guidance in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.

“That includes limiting your contacts with other people, washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, keeping your distance and covering your face.

“If you test positive for Covid-19 via a PCR test or rapid lateral flow test it is crucial that you self-isolate so you don’t pass on the virus, and support is available to help you do that.”