The new strain, known as Omicron, sparked widespread panic when scientists discovered it had a total of 50 mutations from the original COVID-19 identified in Wuhan, with 30 of those on the spike protein. Preliminary data suggests this variant is far more transmissible than the Beta or Delta variants and has the potential to evade immunity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially declared Omicron a “variant of concern” and warned it carries a “higher risk of re-infection than other variants of concern”.
Newcastle-based company QuantuMDx Group Limited said the highly mutated stain demonstrates the need for dynamic testing methods which can identify Covid as it alters over time.
QuantuMDx confirmed on Friday that their testing methods, including a revolutionary rapid PCR test Q-POC, had the capacity to detect the new Omicron variant.
Jonathan O’Halloran, QuantuMDx chief executive, told Express.co.uk: “Following the detection of this new variant, we have performed a detailed analysis of the mutations to fully assess the reliability of our existing tests and Q-POC.
“Our assay design strategy, to include three targets, where most only target one or two regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, is being proven to be a robust one and with all the new variants continually emerging, we are confident that our tests and device remain able to detect all known variants.”
Mr O’Halloran, who is a geneticist, explained that his company spent additional time looking at bioinformatics to design a “variant-proof” test.
QuantuMDx achieved a “variant-proof” test by targetting three different genes within each test.
They deliberately focused on parts of the genome that do not mutate readily, however, if one of them does mutate there are still two other targets to test for.
The revolutionary Q-POC rapid PCR test, which delivers a lab-standard result in only 30 minutes, could play a significant role in containing the virus and help to keep anxious Britons out of another Christmas lockdown, according to Mr O’Halloran.
He explained: “The use of testing, preferably rapid PCR testing like Q-POC will help keep us safe and keep us away from lockdowns – that’s for sure. And that’s testing as a whole. It’s important that we keep maintaining testing.
“I think the key aspect of lockdowns is we lockdown when our healthcare service gets overrun.
“That’s hospital ICU admissions, but also our wonderful NHS staff catching Covid And we’re going to be in a situation where the numbers are going to go right the way through the roof.
“And so it’s going to be important to maintain the hospitals as Covid safe for our staff.
“The best use of Q-POC in that instance is to be using our tests at the triage step, so when people come in, they can quickly get a Covid test and be then sent to the right wards or isolated or sent home – that way we’ll be able to ensure that the staff remain safe.
“If we just rely on lateral flow there’s too many false negatives. So people who are still infectious will be missed.
“And too many false positives which means people who do need to get urgent medical attention will be sent home.
“So if we wait for lab-based PCR tests, that will generally take five hours and so it’s not practical. So really the only way of doing it is rapid PCR tests that Q-POC provides.”
The new Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the UK, but has been reported in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana, Israel and Belgium.
The UK government has added South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to the UK’s travel red list in an attempt to avoid the new strain.
Flights from these nations to the UK have been suspended until 4am on Sunday until hotel quarantine is up and running.
Downing Street has urged anyone who has arrived from these countries recently to get tested.