UK trials new technology to detect known Covid-19 variants

01 April 2021


The UK Government has announced the trial of a technology that can quickly identify new Covid-19 mutations by showing whether positive test specimens contain known variants.

Known as ‘genotype assay testing’, the technology is currently being trialled by the government in NHS Test and Trace laboratories.

At present, detecting a case of variants of concern takes around four to five days for genomic sequencing.

The latest technology could potentially halve the time taken to detect whether a positive Covid-19 sample has a variant of concern and could be used along with standard Covid-19 testing to detect cases rapidly.

UK Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We must not stand still if we are to beat Covid-19 and safely ease restrictions in the coming months.

“That is why our goal is to eventually test every Covid positive sample for mutations, that indicate known variants, using this groundbreaking new technology.

“This type of testing will help us rapidly identify variant cases and trace contacts quicker than ever before, helping stop outbreaks in their tracks and ensuring we can continue to follow the roadmap we have set out to get back to normal life.”

According to the government, controlling variants of concerns is the key to cautiously easing lockdown restrictions in England.

In addition to the extensive testing capacity NHS Test and Trace has in place, surge testing is deployed in various targeted areas to aid in suppressing, controlling and better understanding variants of concern.

UK Health Minister Lord Bethell said: “Using this test to identify known variant of concern cases has the potential to accelerate our knowledge and understanding of variants of concern and halt their spread across the country.”

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