Covid-19: Test blitz for South African variant, and unis want loan interest suspended

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Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Tuesday morning. We'll have another update for you this evening.

1. Test blitz under way to find South African variant in England

On Monday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said 105 cases of the South African Covid-19 variant had been found in the UK. Of those, 11 had no links to international travel. In response, the government is beginning mass, door-to-door testing in eight parts of England where the variant was found - they are in Surrey, London, Kent, Hertfordshire, Southport and Walsall. Around 80,000 people over 16 will be tested, regardless of symptoms. Mr Hancock said he wanted to "find every case" of the variant to "break the chains of transmission". He said there was "no evidence" to suggest the South African variant was more severe - but it's thought it may be more contagious. Dr Susan Hopkins from Public Health England said vaccines "perhaps" could have "diminished effectiveness" on the variant, but would still be "very good". Learn more about the South African variant here - and watch Mr Hancock's announcement below.

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Matt Hancock: UK "must come down hard" on South Africa variant

2. Universities call for student loan interest to be suspended

The interest on student loans in England should be suspended for 15 months, a group of universities says. The vice-chancellors of seven universities say this would cover the period from the first national lockdown until summer 2021. In England, students are currently charged 5.6% on their student loans while they are studying - which is the retail price index plus 3%. But loan interest isn't the only cost that students are facing - here's a report from last month on a university "rent strike".

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Students from more than 50 universities took part in a rent strike over how their studies have been affected

3. Doctor: We're dealing with self-harming 10-year-olds in lockdown

A doctor in Bradford says the pandemic is leading to an increase in children self-harming or taking overdoses. "Children in mental health crisis used to be brought to A&E about twice a week," writes Dr John Wright. "Since the summer it's been more like once or twice a day. Some as young as 10 have cut themselves, taken overdoses, or tried to asphyxiate themselves. There was even one child aged eight." Our video below has tips for looking after children's mental health.

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WATCH: Tips for helping your child's mental health

4. On the beat with the lockdown police

The BBC's June Kelly has joined Avon and Somerset Police's special team dealing with lockdown breaches. In one case, a man tried to flee in his socks - but the officers caught up with him.

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Avon and Somerset Police have set up a special team to enforce lockdown rules

5. Family with Captain Tom in hospital

Captain Sir Tom Moore's family are with him in hospital after he was admitted with coronavirus, the hospital has said. The 100-year-old, who raised almost £33m for the NHS, was taken to Bedford Hospital on Sunday after requiring help with his breathing. Relive his knighthood ceremony from last summer here.

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Capt Sir Tom Moore has vowed to keep the conversation he shared with Queen as she honoured him private

And don't forget...

You can find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page. This piece looks at how Europe is trying to deal with the pandemic this winter.

Image source, BBC

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