Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
11:10 AM 27th June 2021

UK Surpasses 500,000 Coronavirus (Covid-19) Tests Genomically Sequenced

The UK has today (Sunday 27 June) surpassed over half a million genomically sequenced positive coronavirus (COVID-19) tests, as the UK’s testing programme continues to ramp up.

The strength of the UK’s genomics science base and diagnostics sequencing industry has allowed the UK to rapidly identify COVID-19 variants and capture critical data that has helped to track and stay ahead of mutations in the genome of the virus. It is estimated that the UK contributes around 50% of all sequencing that is shared for comparison across the world.

Genomic sequencing is laboratory analysis that identifies a virus’s genetic make-up, allowing new variants or mutations in existing variants to be detected. Reaching this milestone is testament to the extraordinary expertise the UK has in genomics and the efforts of researchers, laboratory scientists and analysts, clinicians and policymakers.

Thanks to the UK’s world-leading genomic sequencing capability, cases of the Delta (B1.617.2) variant have been quickly detected, as well as other variants of concern. 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.

Innovation Minister Lord Bethell said:
"From Fred Sanger to the modern day, the UK has a proud tradition of developing genetic and genomic technologies which improve the lives of patients across the country and globally.

"This milestone is testament to the hard work, dedication and brilliance of researchers and scientists in laboratories across the country, as well as those on the frontline of our battle against this wretched virus.

"It is vital that we not only maintain, but develop our global leadership in genomics and do our utmost to unlock its enormous potential.

"The British public has played their part at every stage of this pandemic and I am urging everyone to do their bit by getting tested when asked to do so, so we can continue to detect new variants of concern and protect ourselves and our communities as restrictions ease."

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.

In addition to surge testing, the government is providing additional support packages to stop the spread of the Delta variant which includes support for those self-isolating and activity to maximise vaccine uptake in the area.

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.

UKHSA chief executive Jenny Harries said:
"Sequencing genomes has been one of most versatile tools in our armoury in the battle against COVID-19, and as we progress down the roadmap its role only increases in importance – helping us track mutations in the virus and act decisively to stop cases becoming outbreaks.

"The UK has shared its exceptional genomics capabilities with the world during this global pandemic and our expertise in this field will be at the heart of our mission at the UK Health Security Agency.

"Every genome sequenced helps us to outmanoeuvre viruses by arming the government and our scientists with reliable data and I am hugely grateful for all those who have worked so hard to enable us to reach this fantastic milestone."