UK sequences 600,000 Covid-19 tests in search of new variants

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The UK has sequenced more than 600,000 positive Covid-19 tests looking for new variants. Sequencing provides data that will be key to relaxing social distancing in the future.

A nationwide study has already identified genes that make people susceptible to severe Covid-19 symptoms, but volunteers are still required in a “race against the clock”.

Genomic sequencing is laboratory analysis that identifies a virus’s genetic make-up, allowing new variants or mutations in existing variants to be detected.

“The UK has an established history of scientists developing incredible genomic technology striving to improve patient outcomes around the world. Every single test sequenced helps us to learn more about this awful virus, and brings us one step closer to defeating it,” said Savid Javid, Health and Social Care Secretary, on July 2.

“This has allowed the government to rapidly deploy additional support to areas where variants of concern have been prevalent, such as surge testing and enhanced contact tracing, to help slow the spread of variants by breaking chains of transmission,” he added.

Surge testing has been rolled out to specific areas across the country to monitor and suppress the spread of Covid-19 and to better understand new variants. Genomic sequencing is a key part of surge testing as it enables scientists to continue to identify variants of concern, as well as any changes to known variants or to identify new emerging variants that need to be followed. All positive tests with high enough viral load in surge testing postcodes and from identified test sites will be sent for sequencing.

The virus will continue to naturally evolve as it spreads globally, but the UK will continue to use its excellent genomics, epidemiology and virology capacity to monitor all variants to ensure that public health interventions are effective and proportionate, the government said.

“We’re in a race against the clock to find another 600 suitable people to volunteer matched for age, gender and ethnicity of those people who were severely affected and needed hospital treatment. We particularly need more men to join the study and members of the Asian and black communities as those people who were most severely affected by Covid-19,” added Sir Mark Caulfield, Chief Scientist at Genomics England.


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Written by

Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.

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