Covid strains: UK to help provide experts to identify new variants abroad

There are concerns that new coronavirus strains could evade existing vaccines. Credit: PA

The UK is hoping to provide experts to other countries so they can detect new Covid-19 variants.

It comes amid concerns that new coronavirus strains could evade existing vaccines.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to announce on Tuesday that Public Health England will lead a new project to analyse the genetics of coronavirus samples across the world.

Nations with limited resources will be able to request support through the World Health Organisation or directly to the UK.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock Credit: John Sibley/PA

In a speech to the Chatham House think tank, Mr Hancock is expected to say: “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 across the world.

“The new variants of coronavirus have demonstrated this once again so we must work to promote health security right across the world.

“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.”

Moderna said on Monday its vaccine is effective against the UK and South African variants. The finding comes after testing by scientists, but further testing will take place to firm this up.

There is also growing evidence that existing Covid vaccines will work against the UK variant, the UK's chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance has said. The new UK strain is believed to be more deadly than the original strain.

It is still not known whether existing vaccines will be effective against the Brazilian variant.

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Mr Hancock’s pledge to help other nations identify new coronavirus variants comes as the Government faces pressure to strengthen border protections to prevent new strains arriving from abroad.

Boris Johnson is set to approve plans to force travellers to quarantine in hotels after arriving in the country. The £1,500 cost of the quarantine is to be paid for by travellers.

The prime minister will discuss the proposals with senior ministers on Tuesday.