SOUTHEND’S two remaining Covid testing centres are all set to close this month, as the number of cases falls across the city.

The sites at Short Street Car Park and Southend Airport are being shut as part of what the city’s health boss described as a “managed approach”.

But he said that plans are being made to ensure health officials can respond quickly to any new variant, with a skeleton test and trace service being maintained which would be able to rapidly upscale if needed.

Speaking to the health and wellbeing board on Monday, director of public health Krishna Ramkhelawon said: “As a minimum we need to maintain a level of outbreak management nationally and locally to ensure that we are able to respond to any potential risk of any new variant which could be more challenging.

“The programme nationally is going to move away from test and trace.

"It’s going to focus very much on waste water management, which is the best form of surveillance we have alongside maintaining the level of border control that will support us if we should be able to able to identify any potential new strain that may enter the country.”

He added: “If we do need to deploy a mobile testing unit given that all fixed units will be removed by the end of this month, we will be able to do so within 24 hours.”

The move follows the closure of the council’s other sites at Hamlet Court Road Car Park, Elm Road Car Park, University Square, Twenty One, Shoebury Youth Centre, and St Aidans Church.

Staff at the the testing centres are employed by the NHS rather than Southend Council, and will either be redeployed or made redundant.

The waste water testing programme is run on a national basis and will not be led by the council.

Mr Ramkhelawon said that the number of cases in Southend had fallen to just below 400 per 100,000.

He added: “As part of this approach we are now receiving regular updates on waste water management from over 300 plants in the country which are being managed under a programme that started just under two years ago and we have been improving that.”

Mr Ramkhelawon said there was no sign the variant was evading the vaccination programme but he said the vulnerable and elderly would require another booster to ensure their protection, and the protection of care homes would remain a priority.