Two UK Covid ‘megalabs’ will open in 2021 to boost testing capacity

Two new “megalabs” are scheduled to open in the UK in early 2021 to boost the daily Covid-19 testing capacity, the government has announced.

The two laboratories will be based in Leamington Spa and Scotland, and together will more than double the current capacity for tests.

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60,000 Covid-19 samples per day

Between them, the new labs will be able to process up to 600,000 coronavirus samples per day when operating at full capacity, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). This means results can be turned around much faster.

The latest Covid-19 data from the government shows that on Sunday 15 November, capacity was at an estimated 519,951, with 379,955 tests actually processed.

As well as processing Covid-19 tests, the new diagnostic facilities will also be used for critical illness testing, including cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “We didn’t go into this crisis with a significant diagnostics industry, but we have built one, and these two mega labs are another step forward.

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“Transforming the UK’s diagnostic facilities is not only essential to beating this virus, but it is necessary to build back better – so we are better prepared in future for testing on a massive scale.”

The lab in Scotland is yet to have its location confirmed, but Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the Scottish government is working closely with its counterparts in the UK to finalise this.

Vaccine trials to start

The UK is set to become the first country to run final stage trials of a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by a company owned by Johnson and Johnson.

The phase three trial of the vaccine, from pharmaceutical company Janssen, starts from Monday 16 November and will be the first of its two dose study.

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The jab has already undergone phase one and two trials, and interim analysis of the single dose study suggests the Covid-19 vaccine candidate induces a strong immune response and is generally well tolerated.

For the two dose study, researchers are aiming to recruit around 6,000 UK participants - from a total of 30,000 people globally - at 17 sites across the country.