MORE THAN 40 new cases of the South African Covid-19 variant have been identified in South London. 

A "significant" cluster of the South African coronavirus variant has been identified in two London boroughs, sparking new surge testing. 

Wandsworth and Lambeth will see the implementation of surge testing after 44 confirmed and 30 probable cases were identified.  

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) called it the "largest surge testing operation to date".

All identified cases are isolating or have completed their isolation and their contacts have been traced.

What is the South African variant? 

All viruses mutate over time, including the one that causes Covid-19. 

Because of this a genome monitoring system which would flag up when new variants were recognised.

Variants originating from South Africa, Brazil and Japan have all been found in the UK and several other countries with many more likely to be identified in the coming months.

Viruses constantly change and these changes can build up in the genetic code of the virus, which usually have little or no impact on it. 

However, from time to time a significant change in the virus can occur, meaning it will mutate in a way that benefits it, for example by allowing it to spread more quickly. 

The South African variant's spike protein (the part of the virus that allows it to attach to a human cell) has mutated and changed in a way that means it is now 50 per-cent more infectious, making it easier to spread. 

How is it different to the variant we already have? 

There is no evidence to suggest that the South African variant (known as 501.V2 or B.1.351) causes more serious illness for the vast majority of people who become infected.

The Department of Health (DoH) has listed this as a "variant of concern" due to its rapid infection rate and worries around the effectivity of the vaccine against it. 

Has anywhere else in the UK identified the South African variant? 

Yes, the South African variant was first seen in the UK in September 2020 when Public Health England were investigating why infection rates in Kent were not falling despite national restrictions. They then discovered a cluster linked to this variant spreading rapidly into London and Essex.

However no other cases of the variant have been currently identified in the UK outside of Lambeth and Wandsworth.

Will the coronavirus vaccine protect you? 

Little is known about the responsiveness of the South African variant to the vaccines available in the UK and it is too soon to say for sure how much the vaccines will protect you.

Scientists have been testing the Pfizer vaccine response against a number of coronavirus mutations and in that study it was clear the vaccine would still work however it was less effective. 

Early results from Moderna suggest its vaccine is still effective against the South Africa variant, although the immune response may not be as strong or prolonged.

Two new coronavirus vaccines that could be approved soon - one from Novavax and another from Janssen - appear to offer some protection against the variant.

Preliminary work suggests the Oxford-AstraZeneca's vaccine offers "limited" protection against mild disease from the South Africa variant, but experts say it should still protect against severe disease.

Vaccines, like viruses, can change and adapt to ensure they are more effective - vaccines can be redesigned in the coming months if necessary. 

What is surge testing?

Surge testing is increased testing (including door-to-door testing in some areas) and enhanced contact tracing in specific locations in England.

It involves testing of people who do not have any symptoms of coronavirus being tested.