Brits in South African Covid variant hotspots must ‘think again’ about going out

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Tens of thousands of Brits in areas with the new South African strain of coronavirus have been warned to "think again" before going out to buy food, medicine and other essential goods.

A Tory minister said the 80,000 people in the affected areas must think carefully before doing anything outside their home – even if it's currently allowed under England's lockdown.

And if they've already "got enough in" their food cupboard they should consider making do with what they have, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said.

It comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned people in eight postcode areas to stay in and get a Covid test even if they don't have symptoms.

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Door-to-door testing starts today in the areas after officials found 11 cases of the South Africa variant with no obvious links to international travel.

The eight areas are: Southport (PR9), Walsall (WS2), Ealing (W7), Tottenham (N17), Mitcham (CR4), Broxbourne (EN10), Maidstone (ME15) and Woking (GU21).

Mr Hancock told a No10 press conference: "The stay at home message is there for everyone, but in particular in those areas it is absolutely vital that people minimise all social contact, and get a test when the opportunity arises."

That led to questions about how the system in those eight areas were different from England's national lockdown – which already orders people to avoid unnecessary contact.

Ms Donelan told Sky News: "So it's not, we're all in a lockdown.

"But I think the message is think again just before you go about activities, even those that are within the rules such as essential shopping.

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"Do you really need to go for that shopping or have you got enough in?

"Could you work from home? Could you have that extra conversation with your employer?

"And make sure you get the test. It's about reinforcing the rules that are in place as well. It's easy for people to become complacent."

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Ms Donelan said the strategy is to "contain" the variant entirely – something that has repeatedly failed in the UK in the past. She added it was "deeply concerning".

Dr Susan Hopkins of Public Health England said three of the vaccines that had been used in trials had shown to be effective against the new South African coronavirus variant.

"We expect all other vaccines to have a similar level of effectiveness, particularly in reducing hospitalisation and death," she said.

However evidence has suggested that while a vaccine is still effective against the variant, it may be less effective than it would otherwise have been.

Dr Hopkins said the UK was looking at whether those who had already taken a Covid-19 vaccine would need a fresh shot to cover the risk posed by new mutations.

"It is unlikely that people would have to start [the vaccine treatment] again, it is much more likely that it would be a booster shot – a bit like the annual flu vaccine," she said.

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