Singapore — In a Dec 5 update regarding the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said aside from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, antigen rapid tests (ART) are also effective in detecting Omicron cases. 

“Testing therefore remains key to our early detection and initial containment of transmission,” wrote MOH.

Since the variant is considered to be an unknown threat due to possible high transmission rates, mutations in the virus’ spike proteins, and possible vaccine evasion, the ministry has been reviewing reports from South Africa, where the variant was discovered toward the end of November.

MOH has also engaged experts in different countries affected by the Omicron variant in order to obtain information firsthand.

“We have been closely monitoring studies on the sensitivity of ARTs to the Omicron variant. The analysis so far has indicated that, in addition to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, ARTs are also effective as a method of detecting COVID-19 infection, including Omicron cases.”

And “even while many questions remain with no clear answers,” as the variant was only recently discovered, this makes testing doubly important to early detection.

MOH noted that Omicron may have higher transmissibility than earlier variants, those who have been confirmed positive for Omicron have mostly had mild symptoms of Covid-19, including sore throat, tiredness, and cough, but there have been no deaths thus far.

In related news, the launching of the first Omicron-specific Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kit in Singapore was announced on Monday (Dec 6).

The kit, developed by BioAcumen Global, a local firm, not only detects older variants but is able to specifically detect the presence of the Omicron variant.

A person who is tested using the BioA Omicron Detection Kit will get one of three possible results: Covid-19 positive and Omicron positive; Covid-19 positive and Omicron negative; and Covid-19 and Omicron negative, The Straits Times reports.

“We are looking at ways to cut down the steps and time needed to run this test. This is crucial, especially at the borders where accurate tests need to be done on site. There is no time to wait on sequencing results to know if a positive sample is infected with Omicron,” the report quotes Mr Jimmy Toh, the director of BioAcumen Global, as saying.

The World Health Organization designated the Omicron a Variant of Concern on Nov 26 due to its large number of mutations. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs,” WHO said.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, of Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, told CNBC on Wednesday (Dec 1) that the Omicron variant is extremely good at dodging immune systems and predicted that it is likely to “overwhelm the whole world” by the first half of next year, if not sooner.

Dr Leong said that Omicron can even be called “the viral Jason Bourne” as it does everything to evade immune systems by changing the virus’ spike proteins.

“Frankly, Omicron will dominate and overwhelm the whole world in three to six months,” he added. /TISG

Read also: COVID-19 | Omicron: The ‘viral Jason Bourne’ that can ‘overwhelm’ the world by spring, says infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam

COVID-19 | Omicron: The ‘viral Jason Bourne’ that can ‘overwhelm’ the world by spring, says infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam