The UK will be using its world-leading genomic expertise to help countries who do not have the resources to identify new variants of coronavirus.
Countries will have the ability to analyse new strains of the virus through the launch of the New Variant Assessment Platform, which will be led by National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) working with NHS Test and Trace, academic partners, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) SARS-CoV-2 Global Laboratory Working Group.
Discovering new variants
So far, the UK has carried out more than half of all SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences submitted to the global database.
The researchers 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, including training and resources as well as personnel and equipment.
Countries will be able to apply for assistance by contacting the World Health Organization where an existing channel does not already exist with the UK.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “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.”