US plays catch-up on genomic sequencing to track Covid variants

January 19, 2021

*This article originally appeared in the Financial Times.

The US is expanding its ability to track coronavirus mutations with genomic sequencing as experts warned that new variants could be driving up cases and hospitalisations. Since the more transmissible B.1.1.7 Covid-19 variant led to stricter lockdown measures in the UK, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed partnerships with US company Illumina, which develops sequencing technologies, and Helix, which has a Covid-19 testing platform. It is also working with LabCorp, one of the largest clinical laboratory networks, in addition to seven university labs, and has released more funding for sequencing to state and local health departments. Throughout the pandemic, US genomic sequencing capacity has lagged behind that of the UK, blinding it, experts said, to the emergence of new variants such as B.1.1.7, which the CDC forecasts could become the most prevalent strain in the US by March.

“We recognise that the US isn’t really doing enough to track these variants.”

Loyce Pace, executive director of the Global Health Council and a member of president-elect Joe Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board

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