Cases of a new Covid variant have been identified in parts of South Gloucestershire.

The variant is a mutated form of the Kent variant that is widespread throughout the UK. The mutation is named E484K and is also found in both the South African and Brazilian variants

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group has classified the mutation of the new strain as a “variant of concern”.

Genetic evidence suggests the Kent variant emerged in September 2020 and then circulated at very low levels in the population until mid-November.

The increase in cases linked to the new variant first came to light in December when Public Health England was investigating why infection rates in Kent were not falling despite national restrictions.

Last week 11 cases of the mutated variant were discovered in Bristol and parts of South Gloucestershire. This week further cases have been identified elsewhere in the UK.

Will the vaccine still work?

The developers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine found similar efficacy against the Kent variant to the original virus, based on swabs from volunteers.

It is still unclear how well the jab works against other variants. Analysis into this variant is ongoing, and researchers are looking at how vaccines might affect the strain.

But the Oxford team says it can update its vaccine and deploy a new version in the autumn if needed.

Can I get a Covid test?

Additional community testing is being offered for the next two weeks at Yate Common and the Bristol and Bath Science Park in Emersons Green, as well as three sites in Bristol.

The testing site at the Bristol and Bath Science Park

The testing site at the Bristol and Bath Science Park

People over the age of 16, living or working, or in a support bubble with someone living within specified postcode areas and who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 are encouraged to have a single test during this period.

This includes people in the BS16 1, BS16 2, BS16 5, BS16 6, BS16 7, BS16 9 and BS37 8 areas.

The one-off testing will use PCR tests, which are analysed in laboratories, rather than lateral flow tests. More than 2,200 tests were carried out on Sunday.

Collect and drop sites have also been set up at a number of libraries, including Emersons Green, Downend and Staple Hill.

Emersons Green library is now a ‘collect and drop’ site

Emersons Green library is now a ‘collect and drop’ site

Instructions will be issued with the testing kits, and tests must be carried out at home. Once completed, tests must be put it into the sealed box provided, and returned to the location it was collected from.

If you have had a positive test result in the past 90 days you do not need to take a test.

In a joint statement ahead of the opening of the new test centres Christina Gray, director of public health at Bristol City Council, and Sara Blackmore, director of public health at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “We are in constant communication with local and regional health partners and the Department for Health and Social Care, working together to put in place all appropriate steps to reduce the local rate of infection and identify and stem the spread of this particular mutation as quickly as possible.

“We are working together on a swift, safe and co-ordinated response, with an enhanced community testing offer available to people in and around areas where this variant has been discovered.

“This will be in addition to ongoing availability of testing if you have symptoms (please book through the national system) and regular rapid testing for essential workers. This additional action will enable closer monitoring and work to reduce further transmission of the virus.

“We expect the number of identified cases of the mutated Kent variant to increase as a greater scientific focus is put on actively searching for it.

“Whilst we know the Kent variant is more transmissible the advice remains the same to everyone.

“Behave as if you are carrying the virus, stay in and only leave the home if you must.

“Do not mix socially outside of your household and continue to observe public health guidance – hands, face, space.

“If you are invited to receive a vaccine, please do so.

“Further information about our enhanced community testing offer will be made available in coming days as we move quickly to respond.

“In the meantime, I urge everyone to continue doing the most you can to limit the spread of the virus to protect yourself and each other.”