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ICMR approves India-made kit to detect Omicron

WHO calls for increased genome sequencing as ‘timely information is needed to guide and tailor public health response’

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has approved a testing kit for detecting the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The kit is manufactured by Tata Medical and Diagnostics and is named OmiSure. The RT-PCR kit, Omisure, was earlier sent to the ICMR for approval after continued testing. The kit will be used to confirm the Omicron in patients with its S-Gene Target Failure (SGTF) strategy.

ICMR’s letter of approval dated December 30, 2021, said: “The tests have been performed as per the manufacturer’s instructions. Responsibility for batch-to-batch consistency lies with the manufacturer.”

The kit currently in use to detect Omicron in India has been developed by the U.S.-based scientific instrumentation company Thermo Fisher. It, too, uses the SGTF strategy to detect the variant.

India’s COVID-19 tally continued its rise on Tuesday with the country reporting 37,379 new cases in the last 24 hours — the highest in past three months, according to data updated by the Health Ministry.

COVID-19 numbers have been rising since December 27 and the total number of deaths climbed to 4,82,017, with 124 more fatalities, the data showed. A total of 1,892 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected across 23 States and Union Territories so far, out of which 766 have recovered or migrated, according to the Health Ministry’s data updated on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization South-East Asia Region on Tuesday said that the focus should now be on enhancing genome sequencing in view of the Omicron variant.

“Diagnostic services are critical for public health. During an outbreak, timely information is needed to guide and tailor public health response to stop/ curtail disease spread. Hence, since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, one of the key areas of the WHO’s support has been to strengthen laboratory capacities, with the focus on addressing inequalities in access to COVID-19 diagnostics tools,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

The WHO is proposing to set up a SARS-CoV-2 genomics consortium in Southeast Asia this year. The consortium will help enhance genomic sequencing and surveillance to develop a robust regional system for detecting and monitoring the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 viral threats for epidemics and pandemics.

This will also help improve the timely use of genomic data for public health decision-making and to strengthen preparedness and response to future outbreaks/ pandemics, added a release issued by the group.

Stating that challenges remain, Dr. Singh said that limited trained workforce and other resources are key barriers identified by countries for sustained long-term testing and sequencing capacities. In a bid to address this, the WHO is building a community of practice — sharing of experiences through webinars and sharing of information through platforms such as the regional laboratory network.

“With COVID-19 cases once again beginning to increase, amid emergence of a new variant Omicron, we need to remain vigilant. Which means enhancing our capacities to quickly test and provide timely results, and conduct genome sequencing for new variants,” the Regional Director said.

“Though the focus currently is on enhancing testing and sequencing, the WHO aims to also bring in a more systematic approach for sustained testing and genomic surveillance for rapid detection and characterisation of emerging and re-emerging high threat pathogens,” she added.

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