Huge queues for surge testing form outside Lambeth Town Hall after Covid South African variant found

Barney Davis and Nicholas Cecil
·5-min read
<p>Surge testing in Lambeth Town Hall this morning</p> (Jeremy Selwyn)

Surge testing in Lambeth Town Hall this morning

(Jeremy Selwyn)

Huge queues formed outside Covid-19 testing centres in south London on Tuesday after several cases of the South African variant was discovered in a care home.

The largest ever surge testing for the variant, which may be more resistant to vaccines, has been ordered in Lambeth and Wandsworth to identify if it is spreading in the community.

Lambeth council said it is “vital” that residents get a test, whether asymptomatic or not, to help control the spread of the virus.

Concerned residents formed huge queues outside testing centres this morning with some giving up before reaching the front.

Some reported pens being handed out to write details on the same piece of A4 paper, as staff struggled to cope with the crowds of people seeking tests.

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The new cases of the South African variant have been discovered in an unnamed care home in London, it emerged today.

Health chiefs were seeking to establish how the mutated Covid virus spread in Lambeth and Wandsworth.

At least one of dozens of cases in the “significant” cluster is believed to be linked to travel into Britain.

People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through the two areas are being urged to take a Covid-19 PCR test.

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

Social media users posted images of the queues reporting nearly two hour queues outside Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton.

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TV producer Nick Frost was picking up two rapid tests for him and his partner. He told the Standard: “I joined the queue just after half past 8 and was in it for about an hour and three quarters.

“To be fair, I think once they realised its length they took measures to speed things up. And people are being very patient. But you absolutely would not want to be in that queue if you had a kid or were elderly.”

He added: “It’s a little disorganised - they’re handing out clipboards, paper and pens at the front of the queue which isn’t ideal in covid times, plus you’re writing your details on the same piece of plain A4 as a bunch of other people. No idea what they’re doing with that info, really. Maybe they’ll come up with a better system as the day goes on but clearly they were caught out this morning.

Surge testing in Lambeth Town Hall this morningJeremy Selwyn
Surge testing in Lambeth Town Hall this morningJeremy Selwyn

Jim Gartland said he had to leave the queue after waiting over 45 minutes for a test.

He said: “There were only 2 coordinators tasked with helping people write down their details on a form, taking PCR tests out of cardboard boxes and answering any questions. The same questions kept being asked which made the process even slower.”

Sky producer Felix Forbes said: “Pace of queue for surge testing at Lambeth Town Hall: glacial.”

Ruth Hutt, director of public health for Lambeth council, said she was “fairly confident” that health teams had managed to trace the contacts of people who had tested positive for the mutation at the care home.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today if people in the area should stay at home rather than visit newly-opened shops and beer gardens, Ms Hutt said: “No, we want them to enjoy the easing of lockdown but to do that safely, and it is a really good opportunity now to mobilise all this testing just to check we don’t have any further cases of this variant in either Lambeth or Wandsworth.

“It is really important to know that a lot of these, cases were picked up through asymptomatic testing, so we have really good testing processes in place, particularly in care homes where one of these clusters was picked up, for people who have no symptoms — they routinely test all their staff and residents on a weekly and monthly basis.”

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace added:” The cluster of cases of the variant first identified in South Africa found in parts of South London, predominantly the Lambeth and Wandsworth areas is significant. It’s really important people in the local area play their part in stopping any further spread within the local community.

“PCR testing is now available for all and I would strongly encourage everyone, whether they live, work or travel through the boroughs, to get tested even if they don’t have any symptoms of coronavirus.

“Around 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 don’t show any symptoms. By taking part you can protect yourselves and your loved ones and help us identify any possible new cases that would otherwise be missed, preventing further transmission and saving lives.

A Lambeth Council spokesperson said: “We thank the residents of Lambeth for their positive response to this call for everyone over 11 living and working in the borough to take a PCR test. We increased capacity to ensure queues are manageable, which proved effective during the day.

“We have eight testing sites available for Lambeth residents with more mobile testing units being added, as well as sites open in neighbouring Wandsworth they can use. These will remain open for a fortnight. Tests are also available by post.”

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