In what may be a relief to international travellers having to wait long hours at the airport for getting tested for the Covid-19, a team of researchers in Assam have come up with a testing kit that can detect Omicron in just two hours. The Regional Medical Research Centre in Dibrugarh Assam, a part of the Indian Council of Medical Research, has developed the new kit.
The RMRC-ICMR Assam team, led by senior scientist Dr Biswajyoti Borkakoty, had been working on developing the testing kit since November 24, days after the first cases of Omicron were first discovered and reported by scientists in South Africa. According to reports, the kit has shown positive results.
How does the new testing kit work?
According to Dr Borkakoty, the testing kit is a "hydrolysis probe-based real-time RT-PCR assay" that can detect Omicron, the new variant of Covid-19, in just a matter of two hours. The kit has also been tested "against specific synthetic gene fragments of Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 within two different highly specific unique regions of the spike protein and also reference wild type control synthetic gene fragments", NDTV reported.
Will the new testing kit help international travellers?
With the World Health Organisation naming Omicron as a 'variant of concern', several countries including India tightened travel restrictions for foreign travellers with mandatory testing for those arriving from affected or 'at risk' countries. However, the long wait period after Covid-19 testing at airports with passengers waiting for the RT-PCR or Rapid Antigen test results caused a surge in crowds at international airports, especially in Delhi and Mumbai.
Visuals of chaos and confusion as at the arrival area in Delhi airport went viral on social media, causing concern for the further spread of Covid-19.
While the rapid antigen test results are available in two hours, they cost Rs 3,500 per test. Meanwhile, the RT-PCR test is cheaper, priced at Rs 500. But it takes nearly 6-7 hours for the test results to arrive. In case of positive results, genome sequencing is conducted to check for Omicron.
The indigenous kit, developed by the Assam researchers, will now be manufactured at bulk by GCC Biotech in Kolkata in partnership with the government. With reduced testing wait time, passengers flying in and out of Delhi are set to get some relief. However, unlike the antigen testing kits, the new kit can only be used in labs with RT-PCR testing facilities. The kit will be available for use in the labs from next November.
Omicron cases in India
India currently has 36 reported cases of Omicron. Three more persons tested positive for the new Covid-variant in Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh and Karnataka on Sunday. While these are the first Omicron cases in Chandigarh and Andhra, Karnataka already has three. In Chandigarh, the variant was detected after genome sequencing confirmed the presence of Omicron when a 20-year-old Italy- returnee tested positive for Covid-19. The patient was asymptomatic and fully vaccinated. Other states and UTs with Omicron cases in India include Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The latter has the highest tally of cases with 17 persons testing positive for Omicron.