In parts of our borough, and in other parts of London, a small number of people with South African variant have been identified. These people had no link to travel to or from South Africa. Monitoring variants and the spread of the virus more widely through regular testing has been identified as a key measure of the government’s roadmap to recovery and for allowing restrictions to be eased in the coming weeks and months.
Over the last few weeks, all positive COVID-19 tests from the borough have been sent for variant testing. From these, scientists have found a small number of people who tested positive for the South African strain of the variant. They live in Acton, Greenford, Southall and West Ealing.
Testing is the best way of identifying people with the virus and stopping it from spreading. Ealing has one of the highest borough testing rates in London. Although the borough’s COVID-19 rates have dropped significantly in recent weeks, rates remain high in some parts of the borough. Working alongside NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England, Ealing Council wants to do everything possible to drive down infection rates before lockdown restrictions start to ease.
This activity follows recent surge testing in Hanwell and West Ealing. The council is now asking people to go to their local walk-up community test sites and get a rapid test from today (Thursday, 25 February). This will help identify people who have the virus and whether further tests need to take place to check for variants.
People who took part in the Hanwell and West Ealing surge testing programme can take a further test if they wish to. Anyone working outside of the home is recommended to take a test at one of the council’s walk-up community test sites for people without symptoms twice a week.
There are several different variants of COVID-19 in the UK and it is likely that more will develop as the virus changes over time. Therefore, it is essential to drive down the number of cases of COVID-19, whichever variant people have, to suppress it as much as possible.
There is no evidence that the South African strain of the virus causes more severe illness or that the approved vaccines will not protect against its worst affects. Vaccination provides the best protection from COVID-19 and residents are urged to get vaccinated as soon as they are offered it.
How to get tested
People over the age of 16 who do not have symptoms and are leaving their home for any essential reason, including to shop or work will be encouraged to take tests at the council’s walk-up community test sites, located across the borough:
- Everyone Active Acton Centre, High Street, Acton, London W3 6NE
- Ealing Central Library, The Broadway Centre, Ealing, London W5 5JY
- Perceval House, 14-16 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, London W5 2HL
- Greenford Library, 23 Oldfield Lane, South Greenford, UB6 9LG
- Northolt Library, Church Road, Northolt UB5 5AS
- Southall Manor House, The Green, Southall, UB2 4BJ.
The sites, listed above, will run seven days a week and are open between 9am and 4.20pm. The Perceval House site has extended hours on Tuesdays and Fridays, from 9am to 7.20pm. People do not need an appointment to attend the walk-up centres.
People will be able to get a rapid lateral flow test that tells them within an hour if they are negative or positive.
Anyone who gets a negative test will not need to self-isolate, but should continue to follow national lockdown rules, including staying at home except for essential reasons. They will also be asked to take a follow up test a few days later at one of these centres.
People testing positive, will have to self-isolate immediately and pass on details of those they have been in contact with to NHS Test and Trace. They will also be asked to get a 'PCR test' which, unlike the rapid lateral flow tests, are designed for people with symptoms, either at a testing site for people with symptoms or by ordering a home test. This will ensure that their test can be sent for variant testing in a laboratory so that it can be better understood how this strain of the virus may be spreading.
Anyone in contact with a person testing positive will be traced by the NHS test and trace and asked to take a test. Where people cannot be traced the council will follow up and make a home visit if needed.
Extra testing options
Pop-up mobile testing units will be sent to high footfall locations where COVID-19 rates are higher. Staff from these units will also knock on nearby homes to encourage people to take a test.
Within the next couple of weeks some of the borough’s local pharmacies are also expected to offer free rapid tests for people who do not have symptoms to make it even easier to get a test when out shopping. High school children returning to school will also take rapid tests as part of the arrangement to get children back to school.
People who have had the vaccine should still take a test. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to remain in shielding until 31 March and should not leave home to get a test but if they have symptoms, to order a home test kit from the NHS website or by calling 119.
Tests for people with symptoms
There will be more testing sites for people with symptoms with two new walk-through units at the car parks of Dormers Wells and Northolt Leisure centres from Thursday, 25 February. These two sites will be open seven days a week between 9am-3pm for the next four weeks. People do not need appointments to attend these walk-through sites but it is recommended appointments are be booked on the NHS website or by calling 119.
These new sites are in addition to the other walk-through, local testing sites already available at:
- Featherstone Terrace car park, Southall
- Michael Flanders Centre, Acton
- Gurnell Leisure Centre, Greenford.
These sites also run seven days a week and are open between 8am and 8pm. People do not need an appointment to attend these walk-through sites but it is recommended appointments are booked at the NHS website or by calling 119.
For people who would prefer to attend the drive-through centre in Gurnell Leisure Centre car park, appointments must be booked on the NHS website or by calling 119. The drive-through site is currently there three to four times a week and is open between 9am-3pm. Check the schedule.
There are no changes to the existing lockdown rules, people should still stay at home as much as possible. People should only leave home for essential reasons, including for work if they are unable to work from home, to exercise and to shop.
Help and support for people self-isolating
The council and local partners continue to provide essential support including food where required to vulnerable residents through the Ealing Together partnership. You can contact Ealing Together by calling 020 8825 7170.
People on low incomes may be eligible to claim a self-isolation payment of £500 following a positive test. You can find out more about who is eligible and how to apply. It is strongly recommended that people check they are eligible to apply before doing so. People who have not experienced a reduction in their income are not eligible to apply.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, said: “All viruses mutate over time and, since the start of the pandemic, more than 4,000 mutations have been identified in the UK. Most are not a concern for scientists, but we know that some mutations result in virus variants that we are keen to track more carefully.
“In London, we’re working with NHS Test and Trace and local authority public health teams on tailored intervention measures for variants. These include more testing, additional genomic sequencing and enhanced contact tracing, enabling us to quickly identify any further cases and help prevent any onward spread.
“It’s key that we adapt and respond to the changing nature of COVID-19 in a way that works for our communities, our city and for Londoners. Taking this targeted approach is essential as we look to take the first cautious steps out of lockdown.
“Around one in three people with COVID-19 don’t have any symptoms at all, and testing is quick and free. If you are a resident of Ealing, please take advantage of the opportunity to take a test and keep London safe.”
'Please make sure you get a test'
"If you are going out, please make sure you get a test because this will help to protect everyone," said council leader Julian Bell. “I want to thank residents for everything they are doing to keep Ealing safe.
“Rates of COVID-19 in Ealing and across the capital are falling every day, which is good news, but there is still a long way to go if we are to safely come out of lockdown and stay out of it. The best way to do this is for people to continue to follow lockdown rules, stay at home as much as possible and avoid contact with others and act as if you have the virus. Make sure when you do go out that you keep your distance from others, wear a face covering and regularly wash your hands.
“Not all our communities are being impacted equally with higher cases of serious illness and death in Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities. So, it is critical we do all we can to protect all our residents.
“We know one-in-three people with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms and so it is important to get as many people tested as we can.
“Although this news will cause concern, I’d ask people not to worry. There is no evidence that the South African strain of the virus will cause more severe illness or that vaccines won’t protect people from its worst effects.
“The only safe route out of this pandemic is through vaccination. Anyone who is eligible and offered a vaccine should do so without delay.”