Covid variant testing facilities bolstered with multi-million pound 'future proofing'

5 May 2021, 00:01

Testing facilities at Porton Down are to be bolstered to help "future proof" the country against the threat of new variants
Testing facilities at Porton Down are to be bolstered to help "future proof" the country against the threat of new variants. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Testing facilities at Porton Down are to be bolstered by an extra £29.3 million to help "future proof" the country against the threat of new Covid-19 variants, the Health Secretary has said.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it will plough more money into the expansion of laboratories at the Wiltshire site where scientists test existing and new vaccines against variants of concern.

Tests on blood samples can help scientists monitor the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines.

Current testing capacity is 700 tests a week.

DHSC said this will increase to 1,500 by January 2022 - backed with a previous £20 million investment.

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And it said a further £29.3 million investment will double the capacity for testing variant samples to 3,000 per week when the work is completed.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it will plough more money into the expansion of laboratories at the Wiltshire site
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it will plough more money into the expansion of laboratories at the Wiltshire site. Picture: PA

"We've backed UK science from the very start of this pandemic and this multi-million pound funding for a state-of-the-art vaccine testing facility at Porton Down will enable us to further future-proof the country from the threat of new variants," said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi added: "Our vaccination programme has so far saved thousands of lives, but it's vital we put in place robust support for the programme for the future.

"This funding will allow us to increase the testing capacity at Porton Down with a new innovative facility and ensure our COVID-19 vaccines are effective against any future variants of concern."

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), said: "A new variant that can escape the current vaccines is the greatest risk of a third wave. This new investment will help us stay one step ahead of the virus by doubling our capacity to test vaccine effectiveness against emerging variants.

"While we expect the existing vaccines to offer protection against new variants, particularly preventing serious illness and death, it is important that we continue to monitor the picture as it develops."

The news comes Brits' hopes are raised they may be able to go abroad for a proper holiday this year.

International travel has been all but off limits for over a year, but increasing vaccination rates meant that many are wondering when they can have a break in the sun.

There are hopes the Government will soon announce which countries they will be able to fly more freely to as part of a traffic light grading scheme, if travel is permitted again from May 17.

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But Downing Street admitted on Tuesday that the NHS app might not be ready to use as a Covid vaccine passport when international travel resumes.

Boris Johnson's official spokesman suggested that officials were looking at alternative solutions for when foreign travel returns.

Flights abroad for leisure purposes are expected to return on 17 May for people in England.

However, holidaymakers will need to show evidence that they have been vaccinated, received a recent negative Covid-19 test or have antibodies to the virus.

It was hoped the NHS coronavirus app would be ready to use for international travel, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps having previously said it will be able to carry out this function.

The app is currently used to book medical appointments and order repeat prescriptions