Britain said on Wednesday it would provide genomic sequencing support to Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Pakistan to help identify, assess and track new variants of the novel coronavirus.
The novel coronavirus, which has killed 4 million people globally since it emerged in China in late 2019, mutates around once every few weeks, slower than influenza or HIV, but enough to require tweaks to vaccines.
Public Health England will extend support to Britain’s partners through the New Variant Assessment Platform Programme which tracks changes in the virus.
About a third of all SARS-CoV-2 sequences submitted to the international GISAID database on influenza viruses have been from the United Kingdom.
“The UK is a science superpower and it is right we support the worldwide fight against COVID-19,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
“We are sharing the UK’s genomics expertise with Brazil, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, and the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, boosting disease surveillance and helping countries identify, track and respond to COVID-19 variants, which are of concern globally.”
British health officials said robust genomic surveillance was vital to identify new variants of the novel coronavirus and then counter them.
Public Health England has already sequenced samples from Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Albania, and the programme will be extended.
“New SARS-CoV-2 variants are a major threat and it is important to remember that in a global pandemic, no country is safe until all countries are safe,” said Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency.