People have expressed concerns about whether the RT-PCR test method for the virus that causes COVID-19 is able to detect the recently-surfaced Omicron variant of the virus. Public health authorities have now confirmed that the RT-PCR method is capable of detecting the new variant and the method is still in use globally.
Department of Medical sciences Director-General Supakit Sirilak said his department has been constantly checking the genomes of the coronavirus and feeding reports into the GISAID global database that provides access to genomic data of influenza viruses. With the appearance of the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, which is considered a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, the department has yet to discover the variant among 8 recently collected samples or from the 75 other samples collected since Thailand’s reopening to international visitors on November 1. All of the said samples were of the Delta variant and sub-variants.
Dr. Supakit asserted that if Omicron variants make their way into the country, his department will quickly discover them as the variant identification process at 15 medical science centers nationwide is now being adjusted to focus on the Omicron variant. He explained that genomic sequencing of the virus that causes Covid generally takes 1 week, while targeted sequencing can determine the variant in 3 days. However, the science centers are now using an approach that can flag the Omicron variant in samples in 1-2 days.
Addressing concerns over the effectiveness of the ATK and RT-PCR test methods on the Omicron variant, Dr. Supakit said these methods are capable of identifying Covid infections caused by the Omicron variant. However, the Department of Medical sciences is aware that 2 out of 104 RT-PCR test liquids approved by the Food and Drug Administration identify the coronavirus via the spike protein and this could be an issue if the virus mutates beyond the detection ability of the liquids.