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The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University have formed a COVID-19 consortium to scale up diagnostic testing in Northern Ireland.

DAERA’s Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) will assist the health service in testing up to 1,000 samples a day from suspect COVID-19 cases, Minister Edwin Poots has confirmed.

AFBI will deliver this service via the newly established consortium with Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, to support the health service in Northern Ireland and help in the fight against COVID-19.

Minister Poots said:

“I want to do all I can to help with the fight against COVID-19 and I am pleased to announce that AFBI laboratories and staff will undertake testing in support of our local HSC testing requirements. We must all work together, across government to support the Health Minister and the Health Trusts in any way we can.

Subject to us being able to secure the key test kits and reagents, AFBI is able to offer its technical and scientific expertise which will hugely support the HSC efforts in the critical area of diagnostic testing. When fully operational in a number of weeks it is expected that AFBI may test up to 1,000 samples per day.

If there is one message I want to reinforce, it is that we are all in this together. Through continued co-operation and collaboration and by supporting each other we will get through this.”

AFBI will conduct the tests at its labs in Stormont and testing is planned to commence shortly, for an initial 12 week period. AFBI is working in collaboration with Queen’s and Ulster Universities on this important testing initiative through the recently established consortium.

Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“All those bodies who have stepped forward to assist with increasing our testing capacity will play a crucial part in enhancing our armoury as we fight against covid-19.

I wish to take this opportunity to express my personal thanks to colleagues in AFBI, Queen’s and Ulster Universities and I also pass on the thanks of my frontline staff and the community as a whole for their efforts.”

Ulster University's work in the consortium is led by Professor Tony Bjourson, working alongside C-TRIC and the Western Health and Social Care Trust to establish and support Covid-19 testing at Altnagelvin.

Professor Tony Bjourson, Director of the Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine at Ulster University said:

“We are proud to be a part of this newly established consortium, working together with Queen’s University and AFBI to scale up diagnostic testing for Covid-19 across Northern Ireland. The NHS is facing one of the biggest health crises in history and the key to saving lives is the ability to rapidly scale up testing capability. By pooling together our shared knowledge, expertise and resources, the consortium can make a real difference.

The team at Ulster University is working alongside C-TRIC and the Western Health and Social Care Trust to deliver testing for NHS staff so that they can protect and treat our community. Once increased capacity is established, testing will also be rolled out to further priority groups.”