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New Covid strain: Can UAE hospitals detect mutated virus via PCR tests?

Abu Dhabi - Experts assure that they have the tools that can detect the new strain.


Ashwani Kumar

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Published: Tue 5 Jan 2021, 2:43 PM

Last updated: Tue 5 Jan 2021, 2:47 PM

Medical experts in the UAE have reassured the public that hospitals are able to detect the new Covid virus strain through their RT-PCR tests. This means “there won’t be false negatives” in case one contracts the new variant, they said.

Hospitals, however, clarified that they are unable to differentiate between the original and the new strain via the conventional PCR tests. They can detect both SARS-CoV-2 — the virus causing Covid-19 — and its new variant VOC-202012/01, but cannot determine exactly which variant has infected a person. A person who caught the new strain will test positive and shall be provided with a treatment regime as offered to any other patient with the Covid-19 infection.

Last week, UAE authorities confirmed that a limited number of individuals in the country were found infected with the new Covid strain. These people, they pointed out, had come from abroad.

Read on: All we know so far about the new strain in the UAE

Dr Suneet Kaur, specialist pathology, NMC Specialty Hospital in Al Ain, said: “We can detect the UK variant. But we can’t identify it as a variant. It requires a higher level of gene sequence identification, which is done only in a dedicated research facility or via a specialised kit. However, it makes no difference to us from a diagnostic and treatment point of view. A positive result is a positive one from a hospital’s perspective. Our report indicates coronavirus... all variants included.”

A lab expert from Bareen International Hospital, MBZ City, in Abu Dhabi, said that with how PCR test samples are analysed, residents can be assured that the new strain will be detected.

“We can ensure that there will not be a false negative as we can detect both the virus and its variant. People can be assured that the new strain will be detected. They can have their peace of mind,” said Mohamed Rafi, the hospital’s laboratory manager.

Rafi explained that this Covid variant can be spotted by the existing reagent they are using for RT-PCR tests. A reagent, he said, is a chemical mix used to detect the Covid-19 virus, and their lab uses the reagent Allplex SARS-Cov-2 Assay.

NMC Specialty Hospital in Al Ain, on the other hand, has the diagnostic kit necessary for the detection of the strain. “The PerkinElmer kit detects the ORF1ab and N gene. The variant is mutating in the S gene. Therefore, the kit is able to detect the variant as well,” Dr Kaur said.

Doctors reminded that the new Covid variant “appears to spread quickly” and urged the public to adhere to safety measures.

New Covid strain: UAE doctors offer tips to stay safe

“It is common for viruses to mutate. The new strain of Covid-19 virus means there has been a change in the spike protein of the virus. The spike protein is what the virus uses to enter into the body cell. My understanding with the new strain is that it appears to be more contagious and spreads quickly. My advice for people is to continue to be cautious, always wear your mask, practice social distancing, avoid large crowds and keep good hand hygiene measures,” said Dr Amaka Kate Uzu, family medicine consultant at Bareen hospital.

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