Genomic sequencing

New technology introduced to detect known variants of concern

One of the biggest factors in continuing with the Government’s roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions is the careful management of virus variants of concern, and in order to improve detection of these the Government is introducing a ‘groundbreaking new technology’ to assist.

Known as ‘genotype assay testing’, the technology is set to halve the time taken to identify if a positive Covid-19 sample contains a known variant of concern.

It is hoped that it could be used regularly in addition to standard testing for Covid-19 to help identify cases of concern more quickly, helping offer up-to-date evidence of whether lockdown easing can continue at its planned pace.

Particularly recently, when new variants of the virus have presented in the UK to date, swift action has been taken to isolate cases and suppress the transmission of the variant, including using localised surge testing and enhanced contact tracing.

As a world leader in genomic sequencing, the UK has been at the forefront of uncovering virus mutations.

Using this new technology, cases of Covid-19 involving variants of concern are detected faster than before, potentially halving the time it takes to detect a case; which is currently around 4-5 days for genomic sequencing.

Being in a position to notifying those affected more quickly, this could allow contacts of positive cases to be traced sooner, breaking the chains of transmission, stopping the spread of variants and potentially saving lives.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Innovation is at the heart of our fight against Covid-19 and has a key part to play in controlling the spread of the virus. 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.”

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