Britain will offer its world-leading genomics expertise to identify new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 to countries who do not have the resources to do so.
According to prereleased excerpts, seen by the Post, of his speech for the Chatham House think tank, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock will announce that any country having concerns over a potential new variant will be able to send samples to British labs, so that it can be sequenced and identified.
As part of the UK’s presidency of the G7 this year, the Health Secretary has outlined his vision for a stronger, more collaborative and effective global health system, not just in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but to ensure the international community is better prepared for future threats.
Countries will be offered UK capacity to analyse new strains of the virus through the launch of the New Variant Assessment Platform which will be 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. This supports the Prime Minister’s 5-point plan, as outlined at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) last year, to protect humanity from another pandemic through a shared approach to global health security.
In due course, it 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. The offer could include 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.
This vital work will combat the spread of coronavirus by identifying more COVID-19 variants around the world to keep the global community one step ahead of any mutations.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock says:
The UK has carried out nearly half of all SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences submitted to the global database, and this capability helped PHE’s scientists identify the variant in Kent, informing new measures to tackle the spread of the virus.
Dr Isabel Oliver, Director of Public Health England’s National Infection Service added:
As the UK holds the presidency of the G7, improving global health security will be a key theme as we encourage countries to work collaboratively both to tackle this pandemic and ensure stronger preparedness for further health threats.
According to medical experts, 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.
The UK’s genomic expertise will guide the global response to controlling the spread and saving lives.