UK to offer genomics expertise to other countries

A new platform will make the country's genome knowledge available to partner nations around the world

A laboratory technician wearing protective equipment works on the genome sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Covid-19) and its variants at the Centre National de Reference (CNR - National Reference Centre) of respiratory infections viruses of the Pasteur Institute in Paris on January 21, 2021.  / AFP / Christophe ARCHAMBAULT

The UK will offer its genomics expertise to identify new variants of the virus that causes Covid-19 to other countries.
As part of the UK's presidency of the G7 this year, Health Secretary Matt Hancock outlined in a speech on Tuesday his vision for a stronger, more collaborative and effective global health system.

Mr Hancock said not only is it important to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, but also to ensure the international community is better prepared for future threats.

Countries will be offered UK assistance to analyse new strains of the virus through the launch of the New Variant Assessment Platform, according to a statement from the government.

The system will be led by Public Health England (PHE) working with NHS Test and Trace and academic partners, as well as the World Health Organisation’s SARS-CoV-2 Global Laboratory Working Group.

The platform will work directly on samples provided from abroad or remotely provide expert advice and support in situations in which a partner country has some capabilities but needs further assistance.

The offer could include training and resources as well as personnel and equipment, according to the statement.
Countries will be able to apply for assistance by contacting the World Health Organisation if an existing channel does not already exist with the UK.
"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 we've never met. When one of us suffers, we all suffer," said Mr Hancock.
"So we must work to promote health security in every single part of the world. Not only will this platform help us better understand this virus and how it spreads, but it will also boost global capability in this important field so we're all better prepared for whatever lies ahead," he added.
The UK has carried out more than half of all SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences submitted to the global database, and this capability helped PHE's scientists identify the new variant in Kent, informing measures to tackle the spread of the virus.
"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," said Dr Isabel Oliver, director of Public Health England's National Infection Service.

"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," Dr Oliver stated.
"It will also give us crucial early warning of new variants emerging around the world that might endanger the UK."
According to the government statement, improving global health security will be an important theme during the UK's G7 presidency, and the country will encourage collaboration to tackle the pandemic and ensure stronger preparedness for future health threats.

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