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COVID-19: How is the UK testing for the Omicron variant? | UK Information

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There have now been 11 confirmed {cases} of the brand new Omicron coronavirus variant within the UK, with contact tracing efforts ramping up in Essex, Nottingham, London and Scotland.

Scientists in southern Africa alerted the remainder of the world to the COVID variant on 23 November – and the first two cases confirmed on British soil got here on 27 November in Brentwood and Nottingham.

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However after additional evaluation, individuals who visited a KFC restaurant in Brentwood way back to 19 November and the city’s Trinity Church on 21 November are being informed to get examined – as they might have been uncovered to Omicron.

An Omicron case was additionally recognized in Westminster, central London. The contaminated individual has since left the nation. Additionally two different {cases} have been detected elsewhere within the capital – in Camden, north London, and Wandsworth, south London, taking the overall in England to 5.

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In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has additionally revealed that “not all” of the six Scottish cases have current journey historical past or hyperlinks to southern Africa.

This might imply Omicron was already circulating within the UK earlier than it was formally confirmed in Africa.

Right here Sky Information seems to be at how the UK is ready to take a look at for the brand new variant and whether or not it has the capability to comprise it shortly sufficient.

How can specialists inform if a case is Omicron or not?

There are two methods scientists can inform if a Positive coronavirus case is the brand new Omicron variant or not.

Each require PCR checks – because the lateral stream ones you are able to do at house usually are not analysed in a laboratory.

Both the take a look at samples could be despatched for normal genomic sequencing, which is how the Delta variant has been monitored and takes between 5 to seven days.

Or a molecular device known as S gene goal failure (SGTF) can be utilized to right away establish a suspected Omicron case.

SGTF refers back to the S gene – a component of the virus not current within the Omicron variant.

So if the S gene isn’t current in a PCR pattern – the case is very more likely to be Omicron.

This must be confirmed by full genomic sequencing, however it means {cases} could be remoted instantly – as a substitute of getting to attend so long as per week.

“The way in which we usually verify for variants is by detecting three components of the virus,” Dr Al Edwards, affiliate professor in biomedical expertise on the College of Studying, has informed Sky Information.

“It is a useful coincidence, as was the case with Alpha, that a type of targets disappears for this new variant.

“It must be adopted up and confirmed, however it turns into a really, very useful gizmo.”

What’s the UK’s variant testing capability?

Genomic sequencing is the evaluation finished in labs that identifies COVID-19‘s genetic make-up and due to this fact which variant of the virus a specific take a look at pattern is.

Not all checks are sequenced, however the UK has the most effective methods on the earth, with extra checks analysed for variants right here than most different nations.

However as genomic sequencing can take as much as per week, this might trigger issues within the race to cease Omicron spreading.

Those that come into contact with somebody who checks Positive for the Omicron variant might want to self-isolate for 10 days – even when they’re totally vaccinated.

So the delay in figuring out Omicron {cases} by sequencing may imply their contacts doubtlessly spreading the virus to different individuals for per week till it may be confirmed.

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Well being minister Edward Argar says Omicron {cases} will rise throughout the UK within the run-up to Christmas

“There is a disconnect involved tracing if by the point you sequence, it is already too late to isolate,” Dr Edwards says.

This implies SGTF will probably be key in shortly figuring out individuals with the brand new variant and stopping them spreading it to different individuals.

The UK Well being and Safety Company (UKHSA) has confirmed 50% of its neighborhood testing labs can “assess samples for SGTF”.

It says all shut contacts of suspected Omicron {cases} will “have samples precedence examined for S gene goal failure and also will have complete genome sequencing”.

Anybody who attends surge testing websites in at-risk areas – akin to Brentwood – may even get precedence.

And all labs that course of checks for NHS hospital sufferers, guests and workers “can conduct a fast genotyping take a look at” to disclose “whether or not a possible variant has been detected in hospital settings earlier than complete genome sequencing”, the UKHSA added.

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Boris Johnson declares new measures in response to the Omicron variant

Is lowered S gene testing an issue?

Though not all labs will be capable of do the faster SGTF evaluation, the UK continues to be forward of most different nations in its sequencing skills.

“The Positive factor is that we’re extraordinarily skilled and geared up to take care of this,” Dr Edwards says.

“The genomic sequencing capability is there, we’re simply scaling it up. The whole lot will probably be finished as shortly as is bodily potential, so I am not too apprehensive.

“The large factor to determine with Omicron is how properly it transmits in vaccinated populations and we do not know that but.”

What about journey?

PCR checks for worldwide journey are supplied by non-public corporations – not the NHS.

This implies there isn’t a assure journey checks have SGTF capability.

The federal government says it’s “participating all the labs that present non-public journey testing companies” to “perceive what number of will be capable of perform the S gene goal failure” or “equal assay centered on Omicron’s genomic modifications”.

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Scotland and Wales are calling for all UK travellers to isolate for eight days when arriving within the nation

Anybody who has travelled from the southern African nations on the UK pink checklist will get precedence SGTF and full sequencing – as they are going to be “handled as suspected {cases}”.

However the hole between non-public journey checks suppliers and the federal government’s COVID surveillance may trigger severe issues in attempting to forestall new {cases} from elsewhere.

“The purpose of journey testing is to detect these Positive variant {cases} – that is the entrance line,” Dr Edwards says.

“But when journey testing is weaker than what the federal government is doing then that basically is an actual weak spot within the system.”

Nevertheless in Scotland, a few of the {cases} confirmed up to now don’t seem like linked to journey, which suggests Omicron is already spreading throughout the UK.

Dr Edwards claims tightening contact tracing guidelines may very well be the reply if that is so.

“The opposite method to assist remedy that is to deal with each Positive case as suspected Omicron – so that they and all their contacts must self-isolate,” he says. “Nobody needs to return to that, however it could assist.”

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