Councillors have raised concerns over the easing of national lockdown restrictions on the eve of the third surge testing operation in Surrey.
On Wednesday (February 17) Boris Johnson said the Government will be taking a “data not dates” approach to leaving lockdown and stressed measures will be eased “cautiously”. On Monday (February 22) he is expected to lay out a roadmap to lifting restrictions.
The PM’s comments come ahead of what will be a second round of surge testing in the borough of Woking which will replicate completed initiatives in Egham and Thorpe in Runnymede, and different parts of Woking in the Goldsworth Park, St John’s and Knaphill areas.
From Thursday (February 18) the testing will start in Maybury and surrounding areas of Woking, with volunteers going door-to-door asking all those aged 16 or over to take part. The specified area can be found on this map.
It is being launched after a case of the South African variant of coronavirus was discovered in the area.
Signing up to the SurreyLive newsletter means you’ll receive our daily news email.
It couldn’t be simpler and it takes seconds – simply press here, enter your email address and follow the instructions.
You can also enter your address at the top of this page in the box below the picture on most desktop and mobile platforms.
Changed your mind? There’s an ‘unsubscribe’ button at the bottom of every newsletter we send out.
Concern over easing of national restrictions
While there is no evidence to suggest the South African variant is more deadly, there are concerns over its apparent higher transmissibility.
Professor Kamlesh Khunti at the University of Leicester, who sits on the Government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (SAGE) and the Independent SAGE committee, told The Guardian at the beginning of February: “We know that this variant is also likely to be more transmittable and we have seen how the UK B117 has transmitted rapidly in the UK, so it is likely that this variant will also be transmitted in the community.”
Woking councillor Rashid Mohammed, for Pyrford, lives inside the affected area and said he was “very concerned” over this aspect of the variant.
The Conservative borough councillor said the easing of lockdown restrictions should be approached cautiously.
He said: “We will wait to hear what Boris Johnson says on Monday, but the way the Government dealt with the last lockdown, I think it was too early [to lift restrictions].
“In Woking, I think coronavirus was spreading in the schools and they were opened too early. I think they [the Government] should keep the schools open as they are (for key worker and vulnerable children), and lift the restrictions slowly.”
Councillor Mohammed added: “My message to people is once the kits are delivered, please complete them and return them as soon as possible, then we will know where we are.
“If there are any questions get in touch with the local councillors or borough council and we will do what we can to help.”
Coronavirus ‘is on our doorsteps’
Councillor Mohammad Ali, for the Canalside ward – part of which also falls within the affected area – agreed that the lifting of restrictions should not come too soon.
He said: “It [the variant] is more worrying if it is more contagious. I look at bits of the town centre in my ward which are high density of people, so for this area to ease the restrictions would not be a good idea.”
He added: “I understand the economic impact [of lockdown] on a lot of people and trades, but my approach is live today and fight tomorrow. I have seen the impact, people in their 40s and 50s and how Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on their health, so I would really struggle to support letting people mix again soon.”
Councillor Ali said he personally knows people in Canalside and Sheerwater who have lost their lives to the virus and said it showed Covid-19 “is on our doorsteps”.
He added: “It is best that we stay diligent and follow the necessary precautions so we can get over this and get back to our economic activities.”
‘A mammoth project’
Councillor Liam Lyons represents the Mount Hermon ward, part of which also falls within the affected surge testing area. He said: “Council officers began preparations for this week’s surge testing a few days ago.
“This will be a mammoth project, involving about 100 Woking Borough Council staff and volunteers, with the aim of delivering and collecting over 5,000 test kits in and around the eastern part of Mount Hermon and Maybury.”
He added that the news of the variant “may be concerning” for residents but urged them to continue to follow the national restrictions.
Councillor Lyons said: “While the normal rules of this current lockdown still apply, it is really important that people adhere to these regulations, particularly with regard to mixing with other people, to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The purpose of the exercise is to detect as many cases as possible, so they can be isolated, to prevent further transmission. I would urge residents in the affected area to do the self-test when it is delivered, so this can be achieved.”
He also praised the Woking community for coming together throughout the pandemic, adding: “I feel really privileged and proud to be part of such a supportive community. With the rollout of various vaccines, the end of this lockdown is in sight, but it is important to realise that we are not there yet.
“This surge testing is part of a number of such exercises around the country, and there will no doubt be more, as we learn to manage the virus in the future.”
Woking councillor Amanda Boote, for the Byfleet and West Byfleet ward, said she was ” a little concerned” on hearing the news so close to home.
But she added: “I do know the council have pulled out all the stops and have it well under control. It is a good thing to be doing because it is tracking the evolution of the virus.”