Targeted Covid-19 testing takes place at a Kent school after a case of the so-called Indian strain is detected.
The variant was found in a positive sample at King’s School in Canterbury, where students and staff undergo PCR testing to see if the strain has spread further.
It comes as new figures show there have been 12 new cases of the Indian variant in the district – 41% of the total detected in Kent in the week to May 14.
Only a handful of regions in the south-east have recorded more cases of the variant during the same period, but the numbers are still much lower than in other parts of the country where tension has set in.
Specialists from Public Health England (PHE) are providing King’s School with expert support and advice, after a member of his community tested positive for the strain.
PHE claims that the patient’s close contacts have been identified and that “appropriate health protection advice” has been given, but could not confirm whether the patient is a student or a staff member.
King’s School – one of the top private schools for boarding and day students ages 13-18 – did not respond to KentOnline’s requests for comment.
Emily Dobell, health protection consultant at PHE South East, said: “The risk of new cases is low, but as a precaution the school is helping with targeted PCR testing to see if this variant has happened. more widespread. We are closely monitoring all cases of the Covid-19 variant in the South East and taking action to stop the spread of the infection.
“Our public health advice to everyone remains the same: the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to remember the hands, face, space and fresh air, and follow the restrictions in place.”
Ms Dobell added that while there is currently no evidence that the Indian variant causes more serious illness or an increased risk of death, there are concerns that some variants may reduce the effects of acquired immunity through vaccination or a previous infection.
Meanwhile, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said there is a “realistic possibility” that the Indian variant of the coronavirus is up to “50% more transmissible” than the Kent strain.
To quickly track the spread of the Indian strain, scientists tested positive Covid samples for something known as the S gene, which is not present in the Kent variant but is detected in the Indian strain.
The coronavirus is on the rise in Kent, with 193 cases reported in the seven days to May 19, 32 more than the week before.
Canterbury experienced the biggest leap – with the spread of the Indian variant seen as a big factor.
The district reported 59 cases of Covid-19 in the week to May 19 – a 269% increase from the previous week.
Meanwhile, the week through May 19 saw a 250% weekly increase in Sevenoaks cases; while Tonbridge and Malling saw a 233% jump – although the number of cases remains low.
Elsewhere in the county, cases have fallen. Folkestone and Hythe saw the biggest drop, with cases dropping from 10 to three, while Ashford, Thanet and Swale also saw their numbers drop.
The most recent official data for the Indian strain only dates back to May 14.
The week of May 14 saw 29 new cases of the S gene in Kent, which accounted for around 20% of the county’s Covid cases – although only half of its positive Covid tests were sent for testing for the S gene.
Twelve of those 29 cases have been reported in Canterbury.
Alternative figures from the Wellcome Sanger Institute have the number of cases even higher, triggering a warning for the public to be vigilant from the head of the Dartford Borough Council.
Cases of Indian variants have likely increased further in the 11 days since May 14.
The variant has taken root elsewhere in the country, with new advice advising people not to travel in and out of eight hotspots, including Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley and Bedford.
For more information on the variants, visit the government website.
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