The UK will offer its world-leading genomics expertise to identify new variants of the COVID-19 virus to countries who do not have the resources to do so
The New Variant Assessment Platform, led by Public Health England (PHE) working with NHS Test and Trace and academic partners as well as the World Health Organization’s SARS-CoV-2 Global Laboratory Working Group, will allow countries to analyse new strains of the virus using UK genomics.
Countries will be able to apply for assistance by contacting the World Health Organization (WHO) and will be led by the National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) and will involve PHE laboratories and staff as well as academic partner capabilities.
They will be working directly on samples provided from abroad or will provide expert advice and support remotely where the partner country already has some capabilities in this area but requests further assistance.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock will say:
“This pandemic has shown that the foundations of so many of the exciting experiences that make life worth living are contingent not just on our health, or the health of our neighbours, but the health of people across the world.
“The new variants of coronavirus have demonstrated this once again so we must work to promote health security right across the world.
“Our New Variant Assessment Platform will help us better understand this virus and how it spreads and will also boost global capacity to understand coronavirus so we’re all better prepared for whatever lies ahead.
Dr Isabel Oliver, Director of Public Health England’s National Infection Service, said:
“We know that the virus will evolve over time and certain mutations could potentially cause the virus to spread faster, make people sicker, or possibly affect how well vaccines work. Genomic testing is crucial to our efforts to control the virus – it allows us to keep an eye on how the virus is changing and to respond before it’s too late.
“This new initiative will bring Public Health England’s cutting-edge science to countries that have little or no ability to sequence and analyse COVID-19 virus strains themselves. It will also give us crucial early warning of new variants emerging around the world that might endanger the UK.”