1m in North West of England told get a test if you have a runny nose

One million people in Liverpool, Preston and Lancashire are told to get a Covid test NOW if they have runny nose in hunt for South African strain that could beat vaccines

  • Comes after over 40 cases of altered strain of original virus found in North West
  • Normally, Brits told only to get tested if they have three most common symptoms
  • Part of No10 clampdown on new variants which could make vaccines less potent 

A million people in the North West of England have been told to take a Covid test if they have a runny nose, as part of a clampdown on a mutated virus detected in the region.

Normally, Brits are told only to get tested if they develop the three most common Covid symptoms – a fever, continuous cough and loss of smell or taste. 

But residents in the Liverpool city region, Preston and Lancashire, have been urged by health bosses to get swabbed if they have even the slightest suspicion they are ill. 

It comes after more than 40 cases of an altered strain of the original virus, which carries a mutation experts fear makes vaccines less potent, was spotted in the three areas. 

The alteration, scientifically known as E484K, is also found on the South African and Brazilian variants which have led to Britain toughening up its border controls.

Even though the mutation does not specifically cause any different symptoms to the original strain, officials are broadening the criteria for a swab as a safety net to snuff out cases that would normally go undetected.

The wider range of symptoms includes shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches, a sore throat, congestion or a runny nose, and nausea or vomiting.

A million people in the North West of England have been told to take a Covid test if they have a runny nose, as part of a clampdown on a mutated virus detected in the region. It comes after more than 40 cases of an altered strain of the original virus, which carries a mutation experts fear makes vaccines less potent, was spotted in the three areas

Matthew Ashton, director of public health for Liverpool, told the i newspaper: ‘We are concerned that people may not think they have Covid because they are not displaying the classic symptoms and, as a result, could be unwittingly spreading the infection to others.

‘The virus is changing all the time, so it is essential that we redouble our efforts so we stay one step ahead of it, and we know some people have been testing positive with other symptoms.’ 

Around 40 cases of the original strain of Covid carrying the E484K mutation were spotted in Liverpool, Warrington and Lancashire.

Liverpool and Warrington find cases of mutation known as E484K

Public Health England has identified cases of the original virus strain with the mutation, scientifically known as E484K, in the Liverpool City Region and Warrington. 

The mutation has also been found in Preston and West Lancashire, according to health officials.

The E484K mutation – also found in the South African and Brazilian variants – appears to boost the virus’s ability to avoid the immune system, raising the risk of reinfections or the current crop of vaccines being less effective.

It has appeared separately in cases of both the Kent variant and on the original version of the virus. 

Neither are yet being described as new variants but represent physical differences to the virus that could change how it behaves.

It comes after 32 people in Liverpool have also been struck down with the original strain of the virus with the E484K mutation. MailOnline understands the cases were spotted three weeks ago.

A cluster of an initial five cases was detected on January 10 among staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital who had attended an event outside the hospital, believed to be a funeral. 

Warrington Council have said they will get behind enhanced contact tracing in the town. 

Thara Raj, Warrington’s director of public health, explained how ‘some residents may be concerned’ but added it shouldn’t ‘cause any further alarm’. 

Ms Raj added: ‘We are monitoring the situation closely and all necessary public health interventions are being undertaken.’ 

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health and wellbeing at Lancashire County Council, said: ‘If you live in Preston or West Lancashire and you’re feeling under the weather, please get a Covid test. 

‘Understandably, some residents may be concerned but all viruses mutate over time so this should not cause any further alarm.  

In another twist to the UK’s Covid crisis, officials have also spotted 11 strains of the Kent variant which have that mutation, suggesting it is also evolving again. 

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health and wellbeing at Lancashire County Council, added: ‘If you live in Preston or West Lancashire and you’re feeling under the weather, please get a Covid test.

‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the three classic symptoms of a fever, loss of taste or smell, or a cough – even a headache could be an indication you may have this mutation.

‘Understandably, some residents may be concerned but all viruses mutate over time so this should not cause any further alarm.

‘Alongside our partners, please rest assured that we are monitoring the situation closely.

‘It is important to stress that there is currently no evidence that this mutation alone causes more severe illness or is more transmissible.

‘The best way to control the spread is for everyone to continue to abide by the lockdown rules and following the simple steps of washing your hands, using a face covering and making space from each other.

‘While Covid has been here for a while now, these new variants remind us that we all need to keep doing what we can to stay safe and avoid spreading Covid to each other.’

The variant discovered in the North West is said to be less concerning because it is an altered version of the original strain so is less transmissible than the Kent one.

Officials are more worried about the mutated variant in Bristol because it poses a double threat – it is the Kent strain and therefore more transmissible but also carries the E484K mutation which opens the door to it being vaccine resistant.

Neither are yet being described as new variants but represent physical differences to the virus that could change how it behaves. 

The testing blitz in the North West is separate from the door-to-door ‘surge testing’ being carried out in eight other postcodes in England.

On Tuesday, extra coronavirus testing was deployed into certain neighbourhoods in Woking in Surrey, Walsall in the West Midlands, as well as parts of London, Kent, Hertfordshire and Lancashire. 

That programme is aimed at clamping down on cases of the South African variant. Officials have chosen those eight postcodes because they believe the strain is spreading in the communities there. 

More than 80,000 adults are being targeted as part of that programme and residents have been asked to take a test regardless of whether or not they have symptoms. 

Health officials have been joined by local police, councillors and firefighters to dish out the tests.  

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