NHS chiefs could begin surge testing in another part of the region if more cases of the coronavirus Indian variant are discovered.

Health bosses in South Tyneside appealed for calm on Wednesday after it was confirmed that a case of the B.1.617.2 mutation – which originated in India – had been identified in the borough earlier this month.

But while officials have stressed the need for continued caution, they have also pointed to reassuringly low infection rates and high vaccine take up.

“The thing that we remain the most aware of and vigilant to at the moment is the variants of concern,” said Tom Hall, director of public health at South Tyneside Council.

“Obviously, colleagues will be aware of the situation in North Tyneside, where there’s been a cluster of variants of concern and they’ve had to move towards additional surge testing.

“We’d already worked out a protocol for how we would stand up surge testing, but now it’s been done in practice in North Tyneside we’ve got a lot more of the operational detail of what that would look like if we do have to go down that route.

“Thankfully, we see very small numbers of the variants of concern in South Tyneside, to the point where those numbers are not out there in the public domain because the numbers are less than five.”

Hall was speaking at yesterday morning's meeting of South Tyneside Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing body, which was held by videolink and broadcast via Facebook.

According to a presentation for the panel, 71 per cent of all adults in the borough have now had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while almost half have now had two jabs.

Earlier this week, the government faced criticism after it updated guidance with no official announcement advising against non-essential travel to or from North Tyneside and without consulting regional health chiefs.

Neil O’Brien, chief officer at the CCG, said: “Vaccination continues to progress very well, obviously there’s the Indian variant, which I’m sure you’re as well briefed on as I am if you watch the news.”