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UK offers genomic expertise to identify new COVID strains worldwide

1 February 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1081

The UK has offered to use its world-leading expertise in genomics to aid countries that lack the resources to identify evolving variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus

The initiative has been called the New Variant Assessment Platform and will be used to help the UK to find and protect itself from variants of the virus that could prolong the pandemic. The platform will be run under Public Health England and will incorporate NHS Test and Trace, academic partners and the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s SARS-CoV-2 Global Laboratory Working Group. The National Institute for Health Protection is expected to lead the programme. 

'New variants of coronavirus can be threats to the progress made so far with treatments and vaccines, so it is vital that the global community is able to react to them quickly and decisively,' said Professor Isabel Oliver, director of Public Health England's National Infection Service.

Countries will be able to apply for help directly or through the WHO. The UK will work on samples taken from abroad or will provide expert advice and remote support if the country has viable capabilities but requires assistance. 

'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' said the UK health secretary, Matt Hancock, announcing the platform.

'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 contributed to almost half of all SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences recorded by the global database. 

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