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UK to share genomics know-how to help other countries identify new COVID variants

Written by on 25/01/2021

The UK is to offer its genomics expertise to help other countries identify new COVID variants, Health Secretary Matt Hancock will announce.

The launch of the New Variant Assessment Platform will see other countries offered UK laboratory capacity and advice to analyse new strains of coronavirus.

It will be led by Public Health England working with NHS Test and Trace and a team from the World Health Organisation.

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Hancock ‘worried’ about new COVID variants

Since the initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, new COVID variants have been discovered in the UK as well as in Denmark, South Africa and Brazil.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his concern about the possibility of a new variant proving to be resistant to existing COVID vaccines.

The New Variant Assessment Platform will work directly on samples from abroad, or will provide expert advice and support remotely to other countries.

This could include training and resources, as well as personnel and equipment.

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Mr Hancock will announce the government’s new commitment to the fight against coronavirus at a speech at the Chatham House thinktank.

He 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.”

The UK has already carried out more than half of all COVID genome sequences submitted to the global database.

The prime minister has previously hailed the UK for having the “best genomic sequencing ability in the world”, which means it is “better able to identify” new COVID “than any other country”.

It was the discovery of the UK variant – found to spread more quickly than the original variant – in the southeast of England that prompted Mr Johnson to introduce more stringent COVID restrictions for many areas in December, before later putting the country into a national lockdown.

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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.”

 Sky News

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