‘Don’t even think about stretching COVID rules’: Matt Hancock’s warning for postcodes hit by SA variant

Watch: Matt Hancock says UK must 'come down hard' on South African variant

  • Matt Hancock tells people in postcodes hit by South Africa COVID variant not to ‘even think about stretching the rules’

  • The strongly worded warning at Monday’s Downing Street press conference comes as 11 cases with no links to international travel are identified

  • Government now ‘surging’ extra testing into those areas to try and break chains of transmission

  • No evidence South Africa variant causes more severe disease

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Matt Hancock has warned people in postcodes hit by the South Africa coronavirus variant not to “even think about stretching the rules”.

Eleven people with no links to international travel have been identified within the past six days as having tested positive for the variant, suggesting it may be spreading in some areas.

Health secretary Hancock said at Monday’s Downing Street press conference that while there is no evidence the South Africa strain is more deadly, “we need to come down on it hard”.

Hancock said the government is “surging” extra testing into the areas where the new variant has been found and going door to door to conduct the tests.

It has been found in the following postcodes in England: W7, N17, CR4, WS2, ME15, EN10, GU21 and PR9.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 01: British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during a press briefing at Downing Street on February 1, 2021 in London, England. Around nine million people in the UK have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Matt Hancock has warned people in postcodes hit by the South Africa coronavirus variant not to 'even think about stretching the rules'. (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Asked if tougher restrictions could be imposed in those areas, Hancock rejected this, instead urging people to stay at home “unless they absolutely have to leave” – the same principle as the current national lockdown – and added a warning not to “even think about stretching the rules”.

He said: “There is already a national lockdown in place that says you should not travel unless it’s absolutely necessary, and that you should stay local.

General view of signage at St John's near Woking, Surrey. Residents in a part of Surrey are to be urgently tested for Covid-19 after it emerged the South African strain of the virus may have started spreading in the community. Two positive cases of the strain - which has been worrying scientists - have been identified in people with no links to travel or previous contact with those affected. Picture date: Monday February 1, 2021.
Government 'stay at home' signage in St John's near Woking in Surrey: one of eight postcode areas where the South African variant has been identified. (Steve Parsons/PA)

“We expect people to adhere to that everywhere… but in particular in the postcodes I have set out where people should stay at home unless they absolutely have to leave, and anybody – anybody – even thinking about stretching the rules in those areas must not.”

Hancock added “further measures are always there” if necessary but insisted the lockdown is “strong” enough.

“Stay home and let’s get this new variant totally under control,” he said.

The government is now trying to test 80,000 people in the affected areas in an attempt to break any chains of transmission. Mobile testing units and some home testing kits are being sent.

People will be urged to agree to testing, whether they have symptoms or not.

The South African variant is thought to be as transmissible as the variant that was first identified in Kent in December last year, but there is no evidence, as yet, that it causes more severe disease.

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It is not yet known whether the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine will be effective against the variant, although other vaccines have shown promising results.

Experts advising the government said they did not think the current vaccines would need to be tweaked to deal with any spread of the South African variant.

In total, 105 cases of the variant have been identified in the UK since 22 December, with 11 having no links to travel.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown