The UK government is set to enforce masks and testing to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant. Here’s what we know about the efficacy of lateral flow tests to identify super mutant Covid strain
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The Omicron variant of coronavirus which was first discovered in southern Africa was named a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO) over the weekend.
The new variant, which has over 30 spike protein mutations, is suspected to be more transmissible, with evidence of increased reinfection risk.
As of Monday morning November 29), there are a total of nine confirmed cases of the new variant in the UK, including six in Scotland.
The government has decided to reintroduce face mask rules and bring in new travel and testing rules to limit the spread of the new Covid-19 variant.
Though not much is known about it, there have been fears that about whether the Omicron variant is vaccine resistant.
Does a lateral flow test identify Omicron?
The WHO has confirmed that PCR tests are just as effective in detecting Omicron as it was for previous variants.
Though the effectiveness of other tests is still under investigation, the UK Health Security Agency has not found any evidence that lateral flow tests will not detect the new variant.
This has been described as “good news” by Professor Christina Pagel, director of University College London’s Clinical Operational Research Unit.
Scientists at Germany’s Goethe University’s Institute of Medical Virology, have also said that lateral flow tests from three companies have been able to find Omicron in samples.
This includes ACON’s Flowflex test which has been used as the predominant nose-only test for the NHS Test and Trace.
Another company, QuantuMDx Group Limited, in New Castle also said that they are “confident that our tests and device remain able to detect all known variants”, after carrying out detailed tests.
But Professor Rupert Beale of the Francis Crick Institute’s Cell Biology of Infection Lab, has warned that some lateral flow tests could be less effective.
Keep in mind that lateral flow tests, unlike PCR, can’t tell somewhere which variant they have been infected with if they have a positive test. A PCR test will be needed to confirm which variant they have.
Does the vaccine work against Omicron?
Right now the answer is “most likely” but this is not for certain as early findings have given a mixed picture.
Experts have previously said that the Omicron variant is able to better evade immunity from vaccines and prior infection.
So far it’s believed that the vaccines may ward off severe illness and death, but booster shots may be needed to make sure of this.
As scientists across the world conduct studies to confirm the efficacy of the vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are said to be preparing to reformulate their shots if necessary.
National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said: “It’s clear that in all the previous examples of variants, the vaccines have worked to provide protection, and the boosters have provided especially strong protection against things like [the] Delta [strain],” adding, “Given that history, we expect that most likely, the current vaccines will be sufficient to provide protection.”