South African covid variant case found in Hartlepool - chiefs urge people to follow guidance

A new variant of covid which originated in South Africa has been found in Hartlepool.
A case of the South Africa covid strain has been found in HartlepoolA case of the South Africa covid strain has been found in Hartlepool
A case of the South Africa covid strain has been found in Hartlepool

South Tees Public Health chief Mark Adams revealed how the variant had been uncovered in the borough while updating councillors on efforts to track one case of the mutation in Middlesbrough.

He told a health scrutiny panel how cases had been found in Hartlepool, Sunderland and Scarborough – and that all had been “involved in foreign travel in one form or another”.

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Hartlepool Council has confirmed the case was the South Africa variant – and it’s understood it was found towards the start of February.

Officials say all the proper protocols were followed and the person and their family isolated.

Craig Blundred, Hartlepool director of public health, said genomic sequencing by Public Health England (PHE) revealed the variant.

He added: “It’s important to stress that this was a travel-related case and not a result of community transmission.

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“All necessary public health interventions were undertaken, including enhanced contact tracing and control measures.

“It’s also really important to stress that there’s currently no evidence that this mutation of the virus alone causes more severe illness, or that the regulated vaccines won’t work against it.

“The most important thing is that people continue to follow the guidance that is in place – limit the number of people you come into contact with, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, keep your distance and cover your face.

“If you test positive you must isolate to stop the spread of the virus.”

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There is no evidence that the South African variant causes more serious illness for those who become infected.

But there are some concerns it can spread more readily – and that vaccines may not work quite as well against it.

Some areas around the country have seen “surge testing” – with door knocking by health teams tracking variant cases in certain postcode areas.

Postcode testing was explored as a possibility in Hartlepool – but it’s understood the wider measures weren’t deemed necessary following PHE advice to the council.

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Testing sprung into action in Coulby Newham at the weekend following confirmation of the variant’s presence in Middlesbrough last week.

All those aged over 16 in Marton and Coulby Newham were urged to come forward for a test – as well as regular visitors to the Parkway shopping centre.

Councillors were told the test centre at the Parkway centre car park will remain open for the rest of this week.

The panel also heard more detail on Middlesbrough Council’s “defensive testing strategy” to track the variant.

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Mr Adams said Middlesbrough’s case hadn’t been involved in foreign travel – and told councillors the person had visited James Cook University Hospital at some point in the past couple of weeks.

He added: “The national programme on surge testing is called Project Eagle – we’re not part of that because I think that requires you to go door-to-door.

“Because of the limited movement of the case, there wasn’t really a requirement to go door-to-door.

“We’ve developed a testing strategy which makes sense for the situation we’re in at the moment.”

He added: “The key issue with this is the genotype sequencing for this takes two weeks at least to do – hence why it’s quite difficult to determine where the exposure actually came from.”

The public health chief confirmed the sequencing of positive cases found would be done in the next fortnight.

“We should have a better sense of the situation by then,” added Mr Adams.

“What we’ve found from other areas which have done this type of testing is they haven’t tended to find large numbers of other people with the South African variant – it’s been in single figures.

“We’re not anticipating we’re going to pick up large numbers – but it’s a defensive strategy to ensure if we do have significant numbers, we’re able to manage that.”

All viruses constantly mutate and scientists are working to update covid vaccines to cope with new variants.

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