Ealing Councillors Say Government Slow To Act Over SA Variant

Took a month to inform Council of presence of new strain in Hanwell

Testing kits being delivered
Testing kits being delivered. Picture: Ealing Liberal Democrats


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Ealing councillors have hit out at the Government for being “slow to act” at informing the local authority of the presence of the South African variant of coronavirus in the community.

On Monday, 1 February, Ealing Council announced that mass testing was to take place in some areas of Hanwell and West Ealing after an individual in the W7 postcode was discovered to have tested positive with the strain, which is believed to spread more quickly.

It is understood that the person tested positive for the virus at the end of December, but that the council’s public health team were not informed until the last week of January.

Councillor Gareth Shaw, for Walpole ward, where the new mobile testing unit for affected residents is being hosted, said: “I believe what they are trying to do is understand just how far this might have spread but the response has been relatively slow if we look at the fact, the individual concerned the test was flagged at the end of December…

“I understand there’s testing to be done, [but] a four week lag before these responses have been put on…They [the government] could have come down faster and harder.”

Testing capacity has also been a concern with Ealing’s Lib Dem group reporting residents being told there are no testing slots available when trying to book tests online for the Dean Gardens Car Park testing site.

As of Wednesday, February 3, Ealing Council staff began delivering free home testing kits as part of the drive to test 10,000 people in the affected area.

According to Lib Dem group leader councillor Gary Malcolm, calls for more testing capacity have been answered.

He said, “It is a great shame that the government kept councils in the dark and were slow to act in informing Ealing Council of the South African variant of coronavirus.

“Thank you to the Ealing Council workers for delivering test kits promptly. Liberal Democrats have pressed for a greater testing capacity and from today testing capacity has doubled which is a positive step.

“I urge everyone to get tested by visiting the testing centre at Dean Gardens or when they receive a test kit at their home.”

In London surge testing for the South African stain is also taking place in Croydon and Camden.

On 1 February, the government revealed that Public Health England has discovered 105 cases of the South African variant since December 22.

They added that all their contacts have been contacted and told to self-isolate. It is understood the Ealing resident has made a full recovery and followed all coronavirus and self-isolation guidelines.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said, “The UK is a global leader in COVID-19 genomics, and because of this, we have been able to identify new strains of the virus and take decisive action.

“We continue to closely monitor new variants, here and around the world, and in addition to our already extensive testing service, we are making surge testing capacity available to affected areas.”

Meanwhile, Hobbayne councillor Ray Wall said he’s noticed fewer people out on the streets since the announcement on Monday, and believes the testing exercise has not been put across “very well” as it gives the impression it’s a problem when potentially “it’s no worse than the UK variant”.

Cllr Paul Conlan also assured the testing isn’t anything to be “massively alarmed by”, and that people being vaccinated should be protected from the South African variant as they are from other variants.

Cllr Shaw added that while mutations in viruses are common, residents are concerned and “confused messaging” from the government from an announcement on Monday “hasn’t really helped”.

Referring to Mr Hancock urging residents to stay at home, Cllr Shaw said, “We had the situation I know of…schools and I’m sure local people thinking they were in some sort of additional lockdown area, this wasn’t the case.

“There are no extra restrictions in the area.”

According to Cllr Shaw nearby schools in the Elthorne ward were concerned whether they should even be open for key worker children.

He added, “The answer was of course they should just carry on as normal, that has really been unhelpful.”

A public meeting hosted by Ealing Council for Hanwell and West Ealing residents on the situation has been oversubscribed.

Others can still watch the meeting live, to start at 7.30pm on the council’s Youtube channel.

To watch the meeting click here.

To find out more about Ealing Council’s work on the variant and advice for residents click here.

To book a test click here.

Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter

February 9, 2021

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