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PTI, (London): India and the UK have clinched new partnerships to boost bilateral cooperation on combating the coronavirus pandemic as part of the 10th UK-India Economic and Financial Dialogue (EFD), held virtually following the COVID-19 lockdown and travel constraints.

A GBP 8-million joint funding initiative announced on Wednesday as part of the EFD outcomes will support collaborative research focused on understanding the severity of COVID-19 in South Asian populations in India.

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in Indian Ministry of Science and Technology said their collaborative research will support projects that are trying to understand the pandemic through the study of related ethnic groups in different environments in both countries.

"This joint programme builds on the strong foundation of India-UK research collaboration and is an opportunity to bring together our collective expertise to understand the severity of COVID-19 infection in South Asian populations of both India and the UK," said Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology.

"This pandemic has brought together scientific research groups nationally and globally to address key research questions. Faced with one of the biggest challenges of our time, research from this DBT-UKRI collaboration will be important in understanding the differential response among these two populations. Improved understanding in this regard will empower us in planning more effective interventions to fight COVID-19 pandemic and any such events in future," she said.

The DBT and UKRI said the latest funding, of GBP 4 million each, builds on the significant rapid investment in COVID-19 research since the start of the pandemic.

Successful projects will focus on mechanistic studies of the disease and its sequela; virology, immunity and pathophysiology; and epidemiology and behavioural science.

Dame Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation, said: "In the UK, emerging evidence shows that, after taking account of age and other sociodemographic factors, people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are nearly twice as likely to die of COVID-19 as white people. There is an urgent need for more data on why COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people from minority ethnic backgrounds in the UK and around the world.

"Through the UKRI-DBT COVID-19 Partnership Initiative we hope to support collaborative UK-India research teams to investigate exactly that. We hope the findings from this new programme will help to mitigate the severity of COVID-19 in the UK and India.” A second COVID-19 related project, detailed in the joint statement issued by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak at the end of their dialogue, involves the UK's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) contributing to India's Coronavirus Joint Response Plan (JRP) and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) via the World Health Organisation (WHO), with an initial amount of GBP 600,000.

This will provide a platform for further bilateral cooperation on AMR through a Fleming Fund partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the future.

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