The entire genetic code of up to 35,000 coronavirus sufferers will be analysed to find out why some people nearly die from the virus while others do not even get symptoms, and whether genetic factors are putting black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups in danger.
Scientists believe variations in genes may be behind the huge differences in how people experience the illness.
Knowing which people are more susceptible could allow for more to either be shielded or released from restrictions, and may even help doctors to tailor drugs to individuals.
It is hoped the Government-backed project will enroll 20,000 patients from 171 NHS intensive care units across Britain whose genomes will be compared to 15,000 people with a mild infection.
DNA samples have so far been collected from almost 2,000 patients. The first results are expected in the autumn, in time to help with a second virus wave if one emerges.
Professor Sir Mark Caulfield, the chief scientist at Genomics England, said: “People exposed to Covid-19 have very different responses. For some, it’s severe and life-threatening, and other people have asymptomatic or mild disorder.
“So we want to understand if there is something hidden in the three billion letters of our DNA that gives us the propensity for a severe outcome. By looking for these variants, it may allow us to identify potential therapies in a second or third wave of this infection and even give us new insights into the biology of disease.”