NEW £29.3 million Porton Down labs will help “future-proof” the UK against Covid variants.
Britain’s top lab is set for an injection of funds to speed up development of jabs to beat any new strains of the virus.
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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “The UK has proven itself to be a world-class force in the production of Covid-19 vaccines, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca, Novavax and Valneva vaccines all researched, developed or manufactured on British soil.
“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.”
Tests on blood samples can help scientists monitor the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines.
Current testing capacity at Public Health England’s state-of-the-art facility in Porton Down, Wilts, is 700 tests a week.
But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said this will increase to 1,500 by January 2022 – backed with a previous £20 million investment.
The DHSC 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.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our vaccination programme has saved thousands of lives.
“This funding will ensure our vaccines are effective against any future variants of concern.”
Speaking to Sky News this morning, he added: “We need to make sure we have vaccine variants that are ready for any virus variant that may escape.”
He said the new investment will deliver in January next year, adding the current vaccination programme was “working effectively against the dominant virus in the UK”.
Officials are planning to offer vulnerable Brits a third booster jab against variants from September.
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.”
The investment comes ahead of the expected lifting of the ban on foreign holidays for people in England from May 17 as part of the next easing of coronavirus restrictions.
A risk-based traffic light system will be introduced, with different rules for returning travellers depending on which list their destination is on.
People arriving from a green location will not have to quarantine, while those returning from somewhere on the amber list must self-isolate for at least five days.
The red list requires a 10-night stay in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £1,750 for solo travellers.
The green list for foreign holiday destinations will reportedly be published on Friday, and Government travel advice gives an indication of which destinations could be on it.