As researchers around the world scramble to understand the dangers of several newly discovered variants of the deadly coronavirus, the US remains woefully behind in its ability to track the mutations, scientists say.

The federal government has had its “head in the sand”, failing to develop a coordinated surveillance system for tracking the genetic footprints of the virus, according to academic researchers, scientific panelists and private entrepreneurs, who say they have been urging US officials for months to make better use of the hi-tech resources already sitting in labs around the country.