Results of testing for new variant in South Norfolk 'could take weeks'

A mass COVID testing centre at Diss Leisure Centre. Picture: Danielle Booden

A mass COVID testing centre at Diss Leisure Centre. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Danielle Booden

Efforts to detect the South African variant of the coronavirus in South Norfolk have been described as “phenomenal”, but it could take weeks for data to be revealed. 

After a successful start to a 14-day surge testing programme in Diss and Roydon, which started on Friday, February 19, Norfolk County Council has praised the efforts of local residents.

The scheme was set up to detect a new South African variant after it was detected in the area.

On the first day alone, more than 4,200 people collected swabs to use at home and 1,000 people attend three mobile testing unit located at the Diss Youth and Community Centre, Roydon Community Centre and Diss Leisure Centre. 

Norfolk County Council held a virtual meeting with the public on Monday, February 22, to discuss how the surge testing has gone so far.  

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk. Picture: Norfolk County Council

Dr Louise Smith, director of public health for Norfolk.  - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Attending the meeting, Dr Louise Smith, director of public health, gave her thanks for the communities' “fantastic” response, but says data to reveal how many tested positive for the new variant may take up to a month. 

She said: “In terms of the number of cases that we have detected we have already between five and 10 positive cases of Covid.  

“In the big scheme of things that is a low number, but it is very much worth us detecting every case because when people know that they have Covid they can take the measure they need to prevent transmission to their friends and family. 

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“I think it will take a month for us to really know which of the people who tested positive have the South African variant and the reason for that is there is a huge amount of additional pressure on the genetics labs to do the DNA sequencing - that lab work is far more technical and complicated than just getting a positive or negative on a test."

Dr Smith said Covid cases are falling in the area, as well as across Norfolk.

She also said there is "no evidence" that the new variant causes more serious illness than other variants, but it does seem to be "particularly easy to transmit".  

Dr Smith added: “I cannot emphasise enough that the numbers in Diss are falling, as they are across Norfolk, and we anticipate that we will hear announcements either this evening or over the next few days about us slowing easing out of lockdown.  

“There is no reason from the data and information we have available at the moment, that that should be any different in Diss to anywhere else. 

“The surge testing will identify additional cases. It is possible that we will see the numbers in Diss go up slightly, but that will be due to the extra testing that we are not doing in other places.” 

Covid surge testing is taking place in Roydon, near Diss

Covid surge testing is taking place in Roydon, near Diss - Credit: Danielle Booden

Jamie Sutterby, director of people and communities at South Norfolk and Broadland District Council, also attended the virtual meeting on Monday.  

He said the councils are now targeting vulnerable people who are unable to leave their homes by going door to door with test from home kits.  

He added: “The response from the people of Diss and Roydon was phenomenal.  

“The demand was as such that we exercised most of our supply of the test kits on the first day. Just over 4,000 of 5,000 were given out on day one.  

“We needed to shut the pick-up points just because of the lack of supply.

"The remainder of those tests are being allocated to those who don’t wish to and feel vulnerable leaving their homes. They will be handed out door-to-door.  

“Over 75pc of tests have been undertaken and returned. But we still have a good chunk out in the community and it would be great to get them back as part of the exercise to give ourselves the best information we can about the variant and its transmission.

"I encourage people who haven't yet had the opportunity to go and get tested to do so."

Coronavirus surge testing has begun in Diss and Roydon

Coronavirus surge testing has begun in Diss and Roydon - Credit: Danielle Booden

Keith Kiddie, chairman of Norfolk County Council and councillor for Diss and Roydon, also praised the way the testing had been running so far - and the people who had come forward to be tested - as a "fantastic effort".  

Speaking at a full county council meeting on Monday morning, he said: "I was hugely impressed that I got tested on Friday and by Saturday morning I had the result back. It is a really impressive set-up.  

"By the close of play on Friday more than 5,000 people had been tested, which is a fantastic effort and it is still ongoing. I'd like to thank everybody." 

A mass COVID testing centre in the carpark next to Diss Youth & Community Centre. Picture: Danielle

A mass COVID testing centre in the carpark next to Diss Youth & Community Centre. - Credit: Danielle Booden

Tests can be dropped off at Midwich Ltd in Vince’s Road Diss, IP22 4YT or outside Roydon White Hart/Roydon Church any time between 9am and 7pm, Monday to Sunday, with no appointment needed. Please don’t use the post boxes at these sites. 

Tests can be booked for anyone over the age of 16 who lives or works in the parishes of Diss and Roydon. Bookings can be made from 8pm each day by ringing 119 or visiting with appointments available at three mobile testing site.

Anyone unable to attend a mobile testing unit or experiencing difficulties with booking a test should contact the South Norfolk help hub on 01508 533933.

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