‘Megalabs’ will double Britain’s Covid testing capacity to more than a million a day by 2021

Two new ‘megalabs’ will double the UK’s coronavirus testing capacity to more than a million a day by the new year, ministers have revealed.

The mass-testing sites, based in Leamington Spa and Scotland, will each be capable of processing 300,000 tests a day.

They will play a major role in the Government’s mass-testing strategy – dubbed Operation Moonshot – designed to get on top of the virus and open up the economy.

The first trial of city-wide testing is under way in Liverpool, where its 500,000 residents are being offered regular tests, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

Two new 'megalabs' will double the UK's coronavirus testing capacity to more than a million a day by the new year, ministers have revealed

Two new 'megalabs' will double the UK's coronavirus testing capacity to more than a million a day by the new year, ministers have revealed

Two new ‘megalabs’ will double the UK’s coronavirus testing capacity to more than a million a day by the new year, ministers have revealed 

Hundreds of thousands of tests have now been issued to parts of Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, the West Midlands and several London boroughs, as part of the drive to root out asymptomatic cases.

They could also pave the way for routine testing of families visiting loved ones in care homes, with the Daily Mail campaigning to end the postcode lottery of different visiting rules around the country.

Last night Health Secretary Matt Hancock said transforming the UK’s diagnostics facilities was ‘essential to beating this virus’.

He 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.

‘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.’ 

He added: ‘The work going on in these labs is ultimately working to save lives and I am hugely grateful for everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this.’

Last night Health Secretary Matt Hancock said transforming the UKs diagnostics facilities was 'essential to beating this virus'

Last night Health Secretary Matt Hancock said transforming the UKs diagnostics facilities was 'essential to beating this virus'

Last night Health Secretary Matt Hancock said transforming the UKs diagnostics facilities was ‘essential to beating this virus’

Latest data on the Government’s coronavirus dashboard shows testing capacity on Sunday was at an estimated 519,951 – with 379,955 tests actually processed.

This increased capacity will mean faster turnaround times for results, according to Department of Health officials, while each facility will have a workforce of up to 2,000 people once fully staffed.

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

A recruitment drive has already begun for the Leamington Spa lab and a campaign is due to start shortly in Scotland, the Government said.

Under his ‘moonshot’ strategy, the Prime Minister promised a mass-testing programme to screen millions of people a week.

On Sunday, a further 168 Covid deaths were reported, a 7.7 per cent rise on the figure seven days ago

On Sunday, a further 168 Covid deaths were reported, a 7.7 per cent rise on the figure seven days ago

On Sunday, a further 168 Covid deaths were reported, a 7.7 per cent rise on the figure seven days ago

A further 24,962 new cases were also reported yesterday

A further 24,962 new cases were also reported yesterday

A further 24,962 new cases were also reported yesterday

Experts said it marked a major change in strategy, away from the current focus on targeting people with symptoms, to screening people who do not have symptoms.

It comes amid growing accusations the national Test and Trace programme is not up to the task, with latest figures showing it is still failing to reach four in ten contacts of those who test positive for coronavirus.

Last week MPS expressed astonishment after it emerged Boris Johnson was preparing to spend more than £40billion on his mass Covid testing programme.

The megalabs follow five so-called lighthouse laboratories, with another opening next month. 

Further partnerships with laboratories and short-term surge have boosted UK testing capacity from 100,000 test per day at the end of April to over 500,000 tests per day at the end of October.

Baroness Dido Harding, Interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said the megalabs will increase capacity and test turnaround times.

She said: ‘Our lab network includes the NHS, academia, the not-for-profit and the private sector and the addition of these new labs will mean another step up in our testing capacity next year.

‘Not only will that mean more tests, but it will also mean they can be processed more quickly, and the time it takes to receive results is reduced.’

Scientist leading Oxford University’s AstraZeneca backed trial says tens of millions of doses are ready to be rolled out by the end of the year 

Tens of millions of British-made Covid-19 vaccines could be rolled out by December, it has been claimed.  

Leader of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca-backed trial, Professor Andrew Pollard, says the team is ‘optimistic’ about getting the go-ahead for the ‘miracle’ vaccine by Christmas time.

The academic says their anti-viral would be ten times cheaper than Pfizer‘s product – which requires two injections several weeks apart and has to be stored at -78C. 

He told the Sun their vaccine is stored at ‘fridge temperature’ and is very close to demonstrating ‘efficacy’ – which Pfizer proved on its own version on Monday.  

Professor Pollard said: ‘We have been working tirelessly all year and can’t wait to see the results in the months ahead.

‘We are a small academic team in Oxford. It is a miracle that we have been able to conduct large scale trials in record speed.

‘Our partner AZ will deliver the vaccine on a not-for-profit basis.’

It comes after the Government said a further 462 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday.

As of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 26,860 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, slightly down from 27,301 on Friday.

And British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has raised hopes of another Covid vaccine being made available early next year after revealing that it has already manufactured ‘millions of doses’.

Roger Connor, its president of global vaccines, told The Mail on Sunday that GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) had launched mass production and was now set to move into the final stage of trials.

‘We’re already getting into the millions of doses manufactured,’ he added. ‘We’re fully resourced and moving – in fact, we were celebrating starting up our Belgium facility the week before last.

British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has raised hopes of another Covid vaccine being made available early next year after revealing that it has already manufactured ¿millions of doses¿. Pictured: Headquarters in west London

British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has raised hopes of another Covid vaccine being made available early next year after revealing that it has already manufactured ¿millions of doses¿. Pictured: Headquarters in west London

British drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has raised hopes of another Covid vaccine being made available early next year after revealing that it has already manufactured ‘millions of doses’. Pictured: Headquarters in west London 

People wearing face coverings queue for a coronavirus test at a centre in Liverpool

People wearing face coverings queue for a coronavirus test at a centre in Liverpool

People wearing face coverings queue for a coronavirus test at a centre in Liverpool

‘You can imagine the sense of pride that creates in people working on it. They are completely buzzing because they know they’re going to make a difference.’

It comes after American giant Pfizer last week revealed its Covid vaccine is 90 per cent effective and could be available before Christmas.

GSK has committed to producing a billion doses of its jab next year and has previously said it was aiming for safety approval in the ‘first half of 2021’.

However, news of the ramp-up in manufacturing and progression of the trials will raise hopes the company can gain approval even earlier, opening up the possibility that its vaccine could be available by the spring.

Healthcare providers will be able to source products from manufacturers like BioNTech/Pfizer and Astrazeneca/Oxford to sell to customers, but any such orders will be put at the 'back of the queue', according to government sources

Healthcare providers will be able to source products from manufacturers like BioNTech/Pfizer and Astrazeneca/Oxford to sell to customers, but any such orders will be put at the 'back of the queue', according to government sources

Healthcare providers will be able to source products from manufacturers like BioNTech/Pfizer and Astrazeneca/Oxford to sell to customers, but any such orders will be put at the ‘back of the queue’, according to government sources

GSK has committed to producing a billion doses of its jab next year (stock image) and has previously said it was aiming for safety approval in the ¿first half of 2021'

GSK has committed to producing a billion doses of its jab next year (stock image) and has previously said it was aiming for safety approval in the ¿first half of 2021'

GSK has committed to producing a billion doses of its jab next year (stock image) and has previously said it was aiming for safety approval in the ‘first half of 2021’

The results of trials by UK giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University – which are working together on a vaccine – could come as early as this week or next week. Meanwhile, America’s Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are also thought to be nearing announcements.

GSK is working in three international tie-ups to develop an effective injection, all of which are set to move to the final stages of testing.

GSK is producing a so-called adjuvant – an ingredient used to create a strong immune response – which will be combined with antigens produced by French drugs firm Sanofi, Canada’s Medicago and China’s Clover Biopharmaceuticals, to create a vaccine. The vaccine is being made at sites across the UK, Europe, Canada and the US.

The GSK-Medicago trial of a plant-based vaccine is moving towards its final stages, with 30,000 volunteers across North America, Latin America and potentially Europe included in the tests.

The vaccine being produced by US pharma giant Pfizer (pictured, facility in Puurs, Belgium) and Germany¿s BioNTech is based on newer technology than GSK is using

The vaccine being produced by US pharma giant Pfizer (pictured, facility in Puurs, Belgium) and Germany¿s BioNTech is based on newer technology than GSK is using

The vaccine being produced by US pharma giant Pfizer (pictured, facility in Puurs, Belgium) and Germany’s BioNTech is based on newer technology than GSK is using

Mr Connor said trials for the GSK-Clover link-up will begin ‘in a couple of weeks’ and the GSK-Sanofi partnership could move into mass human testing ‘in the next few weeks’ after receiving encouraging results. He added: ‘We’re looking for approval of our vaccines in that first half of 2021 – the world’s going to need them.’

The vaccine being produced by US pharma giant Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech is based on newer technology than GSK is using.

As a result, Pfizer’s vaccine will need to be stored below minus 70C. The vaccines being developed by GSK, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson can all be stored at normal fridge temperature.

But news of the potential breakthrough comes as a leading expert warned that a limited supply of the raw ingredients needed for Covid vaccines such as Pfizer’s risks leaving much of the world’s population unprotected. 

Andrey Zarur, chief executive of GreenLight Biosciences, said that because the jabs are based on new technology, suppliers of the materials needed to make them do not yet have the capacity to churn out the vast quantities required.

‘The supply chain is just not mature enough. They have existed for laboratory-scale processes, which need nanograms, but they have to go from nanogram scale, to kilogram scale,’ he added.

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