Testing of thousands of people in part of Norfolk will begin on Friday, to try to stem the spread of a South African variant of coronavirus.
Public health bosses want everybody aged 16 or over in the parishes of Diss and Roydon to urgently get tested, even if they have no symptoms, to establish how widespread the Covid-19 variant is.
Letters have been sent to thousands of homes encouraging people to get tested, with three walk-in mobile testing units to be set up in Diss and Roydon from Friday (February 19).
Home testing kits are also being made available for people to pick up or request by telephone.
The surge testing – which seeks to get people tested even if they have no coronavirus symptoms – comes after a “very small number of cases” of the South African variant were found in the Diss area, which have not been traced back to international travel.
Those people who test positive will be told to self-isolate, with contacts traced and told to do likewise.
Dr Louise Smith, Norfolk’s director of public health, said some 10,000 people had been written to.
She said if 5,000 people got tested that would be valuable information for establishing the spread of the South African variant.
She said: “This is a precautionary action. Overall, the number of cases in South Norfolk is falling and there is no reason for local people to be worried by this increased testing.
“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance – limit your number of contacts, wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, keep your distance and cover your face.
“If you test positive by any method, you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”
Norfolk County Council had previously said up to 10 cases had been identified in the county, but they were linked to travel to South Africa.
The surge testing aims to identify if it has spread into the community.
The South Africa variant is believed to spread more easily than the original virus, although there is no evidence it causes more serious illness.
Positive tests will be sequenced to identify any further spread of the new variant, although it will take a number of weeks for that information to come back.
Dr Smith said the geographical areas for the tests had been limited to the direct area around the cases.
She said the testing might link cases back to the initial people who had tested positive after travel to South Africa.
But she said that, if it showed those cases had gone beyond them and their contacts, wider surge testing might be required.
If someone tests positive, they must self-isolate immediately and pass on details of contacts to NHS Test and Trace.
There are no extra restrictions for people in Diss and Roydon, other than national lockdown rules.
Three mobile test units will be set up:
Diss Youth and Community Centre, in Shelfhanger Road, will run testing from 9am to 3pm from Friday until Thursday, February 25.
Diss Leisure Centre, in Victoria Road will do testing from 9am until 3pm from Friday until Thursday, March 4.
And Roydon Village Hall, in the High Road, will offer tests between 12pm and 6pm from Friday until Thursday, March 4.
People need to book tests at www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test.
People who don’t have symptoms should click ‘yes’ when asked ‘is the person who needs a test part of a trial or government project?’ and then select ‘taking part in community testing’
People who do have symptoms should follow instructions on the website and choose one of the mobile testing sites.
They should drive to the testing centre if they can, but if they cannot, they should call 01508 533 933 to have a test kit dropped off at their home.
From Friday, people can also pick up test kits from Midwich Ltd, Vince’s Road in Diss, between 9am and 7pm or from outside Roydon White Hart / Roydon Church from 9am to 7pm.
People unable to get to mobile testing units or to collect a testing kit to take home, can get them dropped off, while arrangements can be made for people to visit homes to help with tests, via 01508 533933.
Council leaders urged people in Diss and Roydon to get tested.
Norfolk County Council leader Andrew Proctor said: “We’ve written to residents in Diss and Roydon to offer tests to everyone, even those who are symptom-free, and I’d ask all the residents of the area to take the offered tests and help us understand where the virus is and what steps we can take to reduce transmission.”
John Fuller, South Norfolk District Council leader, said: “Last year our residents worked together to turn the tide of rising numbers in Wymondham. Now we need to pull together again and I am asking every resident in Diss and Roydon to help us by taking a test.”