Door-to-door deliveries of thousands of coronavirus tests aiming to catch cases of the South African variant are under way, with some residents feeling concerned about the presence of the strain in England.
The rollout of extra testing in eight postcode areas of the country is part of urgent efforts to swab 80,000 people and halt the spread of the strain.
Eleven cases of the variant have been identified over the last five or six days in people who have no links to travel – suggesting it may be spreading in communities.
In Woking, Surrey, on Tuesday, where two cases of the strain were discovered, volunteers began ringing and knocking on doors on streets within part of the GU21 postcode area to explain the reasoning for testing and leave kits for residents.
Plans involve more than 100 volunteers handing over PCR tests, which are not compulsory and only for those aged over 18, for around 9,500 residents living in the area this week.
Once completed and collected by the volunteers, who are working in pairs, the tests are sent to a laboratory to be examined for the South African strain.
One town resident, Robyn Brunskill, 22, told the PA news agency: “It is quite concerning, especially if they are saying people who have it haven’t had any direct association with South Africa.
“That makes you worry about where it’s coming from and you’re more vulnerable than you think you are.”
Mother-of-two Teresa Miller, who is still recovering from having earlier had coronavirus, said: “I think it’s a good idea to get it under control, obviously, as soon as possible just so we can go back to normal.
“I’ve literally just got over it. I’m hoping I’m sort of immune to it.”
Ms Miller, 42, who works for Kingston University, said having coronavirus was “awful”, with it leaving her feeling “exhausted” and “totally drained of energy”.
She added: “Obviously it’s important that everyone gets tested and if it keeps it away, then that’s even better.”
Stewart Dawkins, 58, a key worker for a supermarket, said the rollout of tests was ” a good thing” but “a bit of a waste of time” if people are going to work.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan told BBC Breakfast that people in affected areas should be “thinking twice about their actions”, working from home if possible and “limiting even more” how much time they spend outside their home.
Mobile testing units and home testing kits will also be deployed to the following areas: Hanwell, west London; Tottenham, north London; Mitcham, south London; Walsall in the West Midlands; Broxbourne, Hertfordshire; Maidstone, Kent; and Southport, Merseyside.
The South African variant is thought to be as transmissible as the variant that was first identified in Kent but there is no evidence yet that it causes more severe disease.
Testing to identify cases of the South African variant in Southport, Merseyside, will begin on Wednesday.
A Sefton Council spokesman said a site for a mobile testing unit was being finalised and a team of people to deliver and collect home testing kits was being mobilised.
Supplies of testing kits are due to be received by the borough later on Tuesday and will be delivered to people’s homes from Wednesday, the authority said.
Director of public health Margaret Jones said: “Finding cases of the new South African Covid-19 variant and reducing the number of people who could be exposed to it is vital, which is why we are focusing testing facilities on the area and trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get tested.
“Anyone over 16 within the area can go along and get tested without an appointment and I would urge them to do so as soon as possible so we can nip any spread of the new variant in the bud.”
The leader of Surrey County Council, Tim Oliver, said residents should not be concerned about the South African strain being identified in Woking.
He said: “We want as many people as possible to take the test but it’s not compulsory at all, it’s voluntary.
“There’s no need for people to worry or panic about this. It’s just an exercise to identify where this variant is sitting in the community.”
He added: “They shouldn’t be concerned. It’s a bit more virulent, as we know, than some of the other variants, but the symptoms are the same.”
Chris Moon, head of logistics for the Surrey Local Resilience Forum, said PCR testing kits were of the “highest standard” and “very accurate”.
He added: “The packs that people will get, there’s the full instructions in there, what they need to do, it is a very simple process.
“All they need to do is put them back in the box and we will come and pick them up. It is as simple as that.”
Mr Moon added that tests are also being delivered for school teachers and local businesses and shops in the affected area of Woking.