A Covid-19 / Coronavirus warning sign on the Promenade in Southport. Photo by Andrew Brown Media

People in Southport and seven areas where community transmission of the South African Covid-19 variant has been found should “think again” before they leave the house for reasons even within the rules, a Minister said today.

Michelle Donelan told Sky News this morning that residents should abide by restrictions “to the letter” given the UK is at a “perilous” stage in the pandemic.

Asked if the advice to those in eight postcodes including PR9 where cases of the new variant has been found with seemingly no travel links is any different to the national measures, she admitted: “It’s not, we’re all in a lockdown.

“But the message is ‘think again’ just before you go about activities, even for those activities that are within the rules such as essential shopping.

“Do you really need to go for that shopping or have you got enough in? Could you work from home? Could you have that conversation with your employer? It’s about reinforcing the rules that are in place…

“We’re at that final hurdle, but it’s still a very perilous stage of this virus and we’ve got these new variants spreading, so we do have to be extra vigilant and really abide by those rules to the letter of them, and also contemplate every action and activity that we do.”

The universities minister added that it was “easy to become tired” of following restrictions, but added: “We can’t. We’re at the final hurdle.”

A race is under way to try to contain the 105 cases of the South African variant found in the UK, 11 of which the government said yesterday had no links to travel.

Sefton Council will set up dedicated Covid-19 testing sites after the discovery of the South African variant in Southport. 

Once they are in place, everyone aged over 16 in the areas targeted will be encouraged to get tested as soon as possible, even if they don’t have symptoms.

More than 80,000 over-16s will be targeted in Southport and seven other affected areas in England as part of the huge surveillance scheme.

Residents will be asked to take a test regardless of whether or not they have symptoms. Local health workers will go door-to-door, as well as police officers, firefighters and council workers.

As well as knocking on doors and asking residents to take tests there and then, extra mobile swabbing units will be deployed to all eight postcodes including PR9 in Southport and home testing kits will be available to order online for residents to do themselves.

Public Health England has already spotted 105 cases of the ‘B.1.351’ South African variant since December 22, including at least 11 people — scattered across the eight areas receiving extra testing — who were struck down with the virus but had no history of international travel.

Responding to the announcement that testing for the new South African variant of Covid-19 will be starting in the borough, Sefton Council Leader Cllr Ian Maher said: “I am pleased to see the Government acting promptly to implement this programme to test for the presence and possible spread of this new variant with the aim of bringing it under control quickly.

“I am also confident that our local communities will, as they have throughout the pandemic, follow the guidance on testing, self-isolation and the wider lockdown measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and help protect those who are vulnerable to it.”

Sefton’s Director of Public Health, Margaret Jones said: “Although it seems this new variant can still be combated through vaccination, it could be more transmissible, which means it could spread more quickly.

“That’s why it is important we carry out this additional testing to try and identify it and to limit the number of us who might be exposed to it.

“We will be setting up dedicated test sites for the new variant and once they are in place, I would encourage everyone aged over 16 in the areas targeted to get tested as soon as possible, even though they don’t have symptoms. This will help us find any cases of the new variant and help stamp it out.

“There is no reason for most of us to change our behaviour as a result of this news as long as we are already following the national regulations.

“This means staying at home except for essential purposes such as shopping for essential supplies, going to work if we can’t do so from home and providing care. It also means maintaining at least 2-metres’ distancing, wearing a mask or face covering while out and about and washing our hand frequently.”

Sefton Council and its partners are still working out exactly how the additional tests are going to take place in the light of today’s announcement but comprehensive testing has been in place across the Borough since April. This has been through a combination of pop-up mobile test units at various sites and permanent walk-through testing sites for people with coronavirus symptoms, and three SMART test centres for people with no symptoms.

Mrs Jones added: “People across Sefton have taken full advantage of the range of testing available and I am confident those within the area covered by the new variant tests will respond positively to the Minister’s request to get tested. ”

“However, for anyone concerned we will be working with our partners to provide advice and support online and on the ground so that we can work together and continue to make progress towards a return to a more normal life for all of us.”

As well as mobile test units, the four local walk-through test centres for people with symptoms are at Bootle Town Hall, Crosby Library Car Park, Netherton Activity Centre and Southport Town Hall. SMART test centres for people with no symptoms who have to go out for work or caring purposes are at Aintree Racecourse, Bootle Leisure Centre and Splash World in Southport.

Details of COVID testing in Sefton.

Dr Andrew Furber, Regional Director at Public Health England North West, said: “The UK has one of the best genomic systems in the world which has allowed us to detect the variant originating in South Africa here in Sefton. I urge everyone offered a test to take it up to help us to monitor the virus in our communities and to help suppress and control the spread of this variant.

“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face. If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”

Do you have any stories for Stand Up For Southport? Please message Andrew Brown via Facebook here or email me at: mediaandrewbrown@gmail.com

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