Queen’s University Belfast: Resource launched illustrating COVID-19 variants across Northern Ireland

The online dashboard includes visuals to illustrate the incidences of COVID-19 strains by Local Government District (LGD) across Northern Ireland.

Through the website, users can select a COVID-19 lineage, such as Delta or Omicron, to see its incidence across Northern Ireland and within each LGD displayed through graphs and videos.

Dr David Simpson, from the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “Once we receive the positive PCR samples at Queen’s, we then perform genomic sequencing to identify the virus’s genetic make-up and detect the particular variant. Genome sequencing is vital to understand viral transmission and evolution, and to inform public health responses and vaccine development. It is through genomic sequencing that we can detect new variants such as Omicron.”

The Northern Ireland dashboard has been developed in collaboration with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, who first built it to display specific variants detected in local government districts by date and track the spread of variants over time in England.

Professor Jennifer McKinley, based in Geography, Centre for GIS and Geomatics, in the School of Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s, explains: “In Northern Ireland, we want to clearly map and visually display incidences of COVID-19 variants. This is not only crucial to inform health guidance and policies, but it also empowers the public to better understand the current health situation.”

Dr Brid Farrell, Deputy Director of Public Health at the PHA, said: “Throughout the pandemic, the ability to track the spread of COVID-19 and variants of the virus has been crucial in providing an effective public health response. It has enabled us to examine areas of greatest need and enact additional testing measures to help our communities take the appropriate steps to keep each other safe.”

The work is funded by The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, the Public Health Agency and UK Health Security Agency.

Dr Timofey Skvortsov, from the School of Pharmacy at Queen’s, added: “We anticipate that the easily configurable and expandable viewer based on open-source technologies can be rapidly adapted for other genomic surveillance projects, such as wastewater pathogen monitoring.”

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