Dozens of people in parts of south London are being made to isolate after contracting the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa, prompting a surge in testing in the area.

The cluster of cases has been described as "significant," and the urgent response is the Government's "largest surge testing operation to date."

Some 44 confirmed cases have been found predominantly in the Wandsworth and Lambeth boroughs, with a further 30 probable cases of the South African variant identified, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

People aged 11 and over who live, work or travel through those areas are being urged to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, on top of using twice-weekly rapid testing.

Covid surge testing has begun in south London - PA Media

Covid surge testing has begun in south London - PA Media

The DHSC said it is the "largest surge testing operation to date" aimed at suppressing any possible new cases of the variant, with positive results from PCR testing to be sent for genomic sequencing at specialist labs.

It said all those who have tested positive for the variant, with the first case in the area being found in early March, are isolating or have completed their isolation, and their contacts have been traced and asked to isolate.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace, said the cluster of cases is "significant".

"It's really important people in the local area play their part in stopping any further spread within the local community," she said.

Covid surge testing has begun in south London - PA Media

Covid surge testing has begun in south London - PA Media

"PCR testing is now available for all and I would strongly encourage everyone, whether they live, work or travel through the boroughs, to get tested even if they don't have any symptoms of coronavirus.

"Around one in three people with Covid-19 don't show any symptoms.

"By taking part you can protect yourselves and your loved ones and help us identify any possible new cases that would otherwise be missed, preventing further transmission and saving lives."

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, urged people in the affected boroughs to get tested "as soon as possible".

"It's vital that we do everything we can to control this variant by taking a test and following the rules," he said.