South London residents queue for tests amid South African variant fears

Mike Bedigan, PA
·5 min read

Thousands of residents have queued to take coronavirus tests at additional facilities set up after new cases of the South African variant were found in boroughs across London.

In south London Wandsworth Council said the testing operation is a “mammoth task” but urged all adults in the area to get tested even if they do not have any symptoms, while people in Lambeth and an area of Southwark have been asked to do the same.

People living in an area of Barnet, north London, have also been asked to take a test after a case of the variant was detected that was not related to the cluster in south London.

A steady stream of people joined the lines at pop-up centres on Clapham Common and in Brockwell Park, near Brixton, in Lambeth, on Wednesday morning.

Marshals said they had warned on Tuesday afternoon that waiting times could be up to two hours and were forced to stop people joining the queue early.

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.

Coronavirus surge testing in Brockwell Park, south London
Coronavirus surge testing in Brockwell Park, south London (Mike Bedigan/PA)

Facilities offering asymptomatic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing have now been deployed at Wandsworth Town Hall, Tooting Leisure Centre and the University of Roehampton, as well as Lambeth Town Hall and Brockwell Park.

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.

Additional testing has also been set up by NHS Test and Trace in the SE16 area of Southwark, where the Department of Health said a case linked to the cluster in Wandsworth and Lambeth has been identified and is self-isolating.

A spokesman for Wandsworth Council said further testing sites will be opened during the week.

“People are desperate to get checked,” he said.

“We’re in the process of testing around 320,000 people and that will take some time – it’s a mammoth task.

“We are doing everything we can to find new additional locations where people can get tested.”

Home-testing kits are also available for collection by residents at multiple sites.

Coronavirus surge testing at Brockwell Park
Coronavirus surge testing at Brockwell Park (Mike Bedigan/PA)

Louisa Wells, 34, from Camberwell, said the process of queuing and testing in Brockwell Park had taken her about an hour.

“I saw they were surge testing in the area, and they wanted everyone to get a test, so I did what I was told,” she told the PA news agency.

“I’m not particularly concerned (about the new variant) but obviously any extension of this is concerning.”

Another woman, who lives and works in Lambeth, said she is taking “every possible precaution to protect her family… and colleagues” following the announcement of more cases of the variant.

Southwark Council said it was working closely with Public Health England to provide additional targeted testing after the variant was detected in the Rotherhithe ward.

“We are delivering Covid-19 tests to properties in the immediate area and are asking residents in those homes to take a test,” the council said in a statement.

A temporary testing site at Deal Porter Square, next to Canada Water Library, was opened on Wednesday and residents can also collect and drop off home-testing kits from Canada Water Library Theatre.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

Sangeeta Leahy, director of public health at Southwark Council, said: “We understand that this could be concerning news, but there is no cause for alarm.

“We are delivering Covid-19 tests to residents in a defined area so that we identify how far, if at all, the variant has spread.

“This variant of Covid-19 may be more easily passed between people… it is important that we all continue to follow the current rules on social distancing and meeting with people from outside our household.”

Barnet Council said teams of officials will go door-to-door in areas in the N3 postcode to deliver PCR test kits, and a mobile testing unit will be set up in the car park of Finchley Central Station.

A statement on the council’s website said: “The South African variant of Covid-19 has been found in Barnet.

“From Thursday 15 April we will start testing people for this variant in specific postcode areas affected in N3 or those who shop on the local high street.”

The council said the confirmed case of the variant was unrelated to the cluster in south London.

Downing Street has insisted the outbreak is being taken “very seriously” and “strong measures” have been put in place to prevent it spreading.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Additional surge testing and sequencing has been successfully rolled out in a number of targeted locations to help us suppress, control and better understand Covid-19 variants in circulation.

“Surge testing has been well received by the public in those areas, with thousands of tests completed and thousands of genomes sequenced.

“Further data will be provided in due course.”

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.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), urged people not to “go wild” after restrictions were eased on Monday, warning it could lead to the South African variant becoming more prevalent.