AN action plan which outlines how West Berkshire will respond to an outbreak of the South African variant of Covid-19 is being prepared.

It comes after a confirmed case of the new variant was detected last week in a village called Bramley, that is around five miles north of Basingstoke.

The government is running a surge testing programme – testing everyone over the age of 16 in the RG26 postcode area – and carrying out genome sequencing to identify any different variants of the virus.

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There is no evidence to show the South African variant causes more severe illness, but it carries a mutation that makes it easier to spread and research suggests the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine may be less effective against it, so scientists are now working to adapt that vaccine.

West Berkshire Council says it is now preparing to respond to any outbreaks of that variant, which is also known as B.1.351.

“We’ve already started discussions and a draft plan of action has been drawn up,” said Melanie Best, who is managing the testing programme in West Berkshire.

The village Of Bramley, where the South African variant of covid 19 was detected

The village Of Bramley, where the South African variant of covid 19 was detected

“Over the course of this week we will be looking to resource that plan and test it out so that we’re ready to go in the event that we need to.”

West Berkshire’s seven-day infection rate peaked at 422.2 cases per 100,000 when the third national lockdown was announced on January 4. It has been falling steadily since then and now stands at 124.3.

At the end of December, around one in six tests (16.2 per cent) conducted in West Berkshire were coming back positive. But that has dropped to around one in 17 tests (5.9 per cent).

The council opened a lateral flow testing centre for critical workers at Highwood Copse Primary School in Newbury on February 8 and in the first week of operation, the 257 tests that were conducted came back negative.

The scheme, which provides people with test results in around 30 minutes, aims to prevent asymptomatic critical workers from transmitting the virus without realising it.

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The council opened a second testing centre at Thatcham Rugby Club on February 15 and it plans to open centres at Burghfield Community Sports Association and Hungerford Rugby Club next week.

April Peberdy, from the council’s Public Health team, said: “We all have our role to play and although there is a more positive picture our case rates are still high, so we need to remember to follow the national guidelines and remember hands, face and space.”