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Covid: South Africa variant testing considered for Wales

Increased testing is being considered in Wales as part of efforts to tackle the South African coronavirus variant.

Officials said there were nine confirmed cases of the more infectious version of Covid-19 in Wales, with another four probable cases.

The Welsh Government said enhanced arrangements were being considered.

Parts of England have been singled out for enhanced testing after concerns grew the variant was spreading in the community.

Public Health Wales said that while nine South African variant cases – and one probable case – in Wales are linked to travel, investigations are continuing for the remaining three.

While there are concerns vaccines will be less effective against the variant, Health Minister Vaughan Gething said they will still offer “a good level of protection”.

The Welsh Conservatives called for the government to consider a “door-to-door testing blitz”, while Plaid Cymru said the issue highlighted the importance of an effective test, trace and isolate system.

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The new figures from the Welsh Government come after chief scientific officer Rob Orford said last week 10 cases had been identified in Wales.

BBC Wales understands that at that stage there were eight confirmed cases, and two that were probably cases of the variant.

What is the new variant?

All viruses, including the one that causes Covid-19, constantly mutate into new versions or variants.

These tiny genetic changes happen as the virus makes new copies of itself to spread and thrive.

Most are inconsequential, and a few can even be harmful to the virus’s survival, but some variants can make the virus more infectious or threatening to the host – humans.

There are now many thousands of variants of the pandemic virus circulating. But experts are concerned about the South African variant, or 501.V2, as they fear it can spread more readily and vaccines may not work quite as well against it.


In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Welsh Government said: “We are considering whether enhanced arrangements, which might include testing, are needed.

“We continue to look for cases through the quarantine and testing arrangements currently in place, as well as through our programme of genomic surveillance.

“We work closely with Public Health Wales and with the wider UK response to monitor, detect and investigate new variants of the virus.”

BBC Wales has asked the Welsh Government if any of the new or suspected cases are linked to community spread.

Public Health Wales earlier announced there had been 614 new Covid infections, of all variants, and seven further deaths on Tuesday as Wales’ average case rate fell to 131 cases per 100,000 people.

Vaccines ‘still offer protection’

In a virtual session of the Senedd on Tuesday, Mr Gething said there are concerns that both the South African variant and a recent mutated form of the Kent variant, will have a “less effective response” for vaccines.

“That does not mean that vaccines won’t be effective at all; they will still offer a good level of protection and it reinforces the need to continue going with real pace in our vaccination programme,” he said.

Mr Gething said he was confident the Welsh Government had the ability to successfully identify such cases through testing.

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Andrew RT Davies said: “In other parts of the UK a door-to-door testing blitz is getting under way in a bid to find every single case of the South African variant, and those in affected postcodes are being instructed to only go out when ‘absolutely essential’.

“Labour’s health minister must urgently update the Senedd on the latest presence of both variants in Wales and unique measures the Welsh Government intends to take to tackle and reduce transmission.”

Plaid Cymru health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “This is a reminder of the importance of an effective test, trace and isolate system alongside the protection that the vaccine can give us.

“If infection can quickly be identified and traced, and people are supported to self-isolate – including an increase to isolation payments to £800 as Plaid Cymru has been asking for – then it will help us to keep ahead of the new variant.”

Source: BBC

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