Testing for COVID-19 is now underway at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), significantly increasing the Department of Health’s testing capacity in Northern Ireland for COVID-19. The new testing facility is the result of the recently established NI COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Consortium which includes Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and AFBI. It is led by Professor Stuart Elborn, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Medicine, Health and Life Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, who is an international leader in respiratory medicine. The consortium works under the auspices of the Department of Health’s Expert Advisory Group on Testing and is also supported by DAERA. Patient sample testing began at AFBI’s laboratories this week following an extensive quality assurance process with the Regional Viral Laboratory (RVL) in the Belfast Trust. AFBI are being closely supported by scientists from Queen’s University Belfast.

Health Minister Robin Swann thanked the consortium for their support and said; “I am grateful to all colleagues in the consortium for their collective efforts, working together with colleagues in our HSC labs, to increase our capacity to provide quick, accurate diagnoses at such a crucial point in our fight against Covid-19. This increased capacity will be key as we continue to deliver a robust response to this unprecedented pandemic and protect the health of our population.”

The consortium expect to increase the testing capacity at AFBI to 1,000 tests per day with further testing capacity, estimated to be an additional 400 tests per day, to be delivered by Ulster University in collaboration with the Western Trust. Other collaborations are currently under development and are expected to come on line in June. Minister Edwin Poots warmly welcomed the additional testing facility;

“This is another positive step forward in our continued fight against COVID-19. I am grateful for the combined expertise from our universities and AFBI which has enabled us to increase our testing capacity in Northern Ireland. Testing is a key component in tackling this virus and our increased capacity at AFBI is an example of what can be achieved by successful collaboration.”

Professor Elborn said “We are pleased that patient sample testing for COVID-19 is now taking place at AFBI following a rigorous quality assurance process and extensive collaboration. This new facility will significantly increase Northern Ireland’s capacity for patient testing. The consortium is an example of what cross-sectoral partnership can achieve and the significant difference collaboration can make during this time of a global pandemic.” 
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