Council health teams won’t know whether positive covid cases identified during surge testing are the ‘South African variant’ until next month, it’s been revealed.

A testing site will be in place for a week at Coulby Newham after the new variant was unearthed in the town, following random sequencing from Public Health England.

Every adult living in Marton or Coulby Newham, or regular shoppers at the Parkway Centre, have been urged to get a test as authorities try to gather more information on the variant and attempt to halt its further spread.

Positive covid cases will be asked to self-isolate as standard in the hope of halting any potential further spread of the variant – and bring down Middlesbrough’s high infection rate.

But Teesside Live has now learned that Middlesbrough Council isn’t likely to be informed whether any positives are the South African variant until next month.

And confirming the issue at a meeting of the council’s Health Scrutiny Panel on Tuesday, South Tees Director for Public Health Mark Adams said it will takes “at least two weeks” to carry out genome sequencing, which reveals whether or not a positive case is the South African variant.

Covid test centre at the Parkway Shopping Centre in Coulby Newham
(Image: Teesside Live)

Mr Adams said that door-to-door testing carried out in other parts of the country where the variant had been discovered was not needed in Middlesbrough, as the positive case had “very limited movement”.

But he said that in any case, other areas had not found many cases in their testing programs.

“We’re not anticipating we’ll pick up large numbers (of the variant),” he added.

Teesside Live asked the Department of Health and Social Care why it takes so long to establish whether positives involved the new variant – and whether that would hamper efforts to deal with an outbreak.

A spokesperson for the Government department said: “Additional surge testing and sequencing is being deployed in a number of targeted locations to help control and suppress the spread of detected covid-19 variants, while enabling better understanding of these variants.

“Thousands of tests have been provided to local authorities, and further data on surge testing will be provided in due course.”

Around 1,100 people turned out at the testing site at the Parkway 2 car park on Saturday, but the council has yet to reveal the numbers of positive cases.

The council said more staff are now in place to reduce the queues and waiting time.

Mr Adams told Tuesday’s panel that Middlesbrough had the second highest covid infection rate in England – with more than 85% of cases in the town now the “Kent variant” – the highly transmissible variant first found in the South-east of England last year.

The public health chief says the person who contracted the South African variant in Middlesbrough had “very limited movement” and hadn’t travelled abroad.

South Tees director of public health Mark Adams

“It’s unclear what the exposure has been,” he added.

He explains a “defensive strategy” had been rolled out in response to the case.

It had been traced following a test at James Cook University Hospital, after the person had visited “at some stage in the past few weeks,” said Mr Adams.

Middlesbrough Council has been approached for further comment.

Testing

There’s no evidence the South African variant causes more serious illness than other strains of the disease – but it appears to spread more quickly, while some vaccines could be less effective.

If you’re aged 16 or over and live in Marton or Coulby Newham – or you regularly visit the Parkwasy Centre – you are urged to get tested,.

Even those who have been vaccinated should take a test, as well as key workers who are usually tested with lateral flow tests – which can’t detect variants. Those with or without symptoms living in those areas should all go to the Coulby test centre.

Pre-booking is not required.

If you have symptoms and do not live in the affected areas, you can book a test with the NHS.

Rapid result tests for those without symptoms are also available across Teesside.

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