The UK government said on Tuesday it will offer its genomics expertise to identify new variants of the CCP virus to countries that do not have the resources to do so.
“I’m delighted to announce our New Variant Assessment Platform—using the UK’s massive genomic testing capacity to help countries around the world identify new variants,” Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Twitter.
“We must protect people and detect new variants wherever they arise,” he wrote.
The New Variant Assessment Platform, led by Public Health England (PHE), will offer Britain’s capacity to analyse new virus strains to other countries who are in need of such expertise.
The UK has carried out more than half of all SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences submitted to the global database, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
It was this capability that enabled scientists from Public Health England (PHE) to identify the new variant in southeast England, which has been found to have a higher transmissibility than the old variant.
Hancock said on Monday that the UK variant is spreading 30–70 percent faster than the original variant.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the UK variant may be associated with a higher level of mortality, but Hancock said on Sunday that scientists are not yet certain how much more deadly it is.
The other major variants of concern identified so far were discovered in South Africa and Brazil, which are also thought to be more transmissible than the old variant.
Hancock said on Sunday that Britain had detected 77 cases of the South African variant and nine cases of a Brazilian variant.
“The new variants of coronavirus have demonstrated this once again so we must work to promote health security right across the world,” Hancock said on Tuesday.
“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.”
Last Monday, the UK further tightened travel restrictions by closing all its “travel corridors” with other countries. Johnson said this was intended to protect the country against “the risk of as yet unidentified new strains” coming from overseas which might turn out to be resistant to vaccines.
The measure means all passengers must have a recent negative CCP virus test and transfer immediately into isolation upon arrival. The isolation period lasts for ten days, unless the passenger tests negative after five days.
Jack Philips and Reuters contributed to this report.