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Thai Coronavirus Test Kits Will Detect Omicron, Or Perhaps They Won’t

.The Public Health Ministry can't make up its mind

Coronavirus test kits used in Thailand will detect the new omicron variant. Or perhaps they won’t. The Public Health Ministry can’t seem to make up its mind.

Following a report from Ramathibodi Hospital Centre for Medical Genomics, that its researchers had used PCR test kits approved by the World Health Organization to test 115 Omicron samples and found “some PCR test kits may give weakly positive or false negative” results, ministry officials fell over themselves trying to assuage the public that the virus “growth advantage” wouldn’t allow it to sneak into the country undetected.

Fears of the variant doing just that prompted the Cabinet on Tuesday to cancel plans to allow international tourists to take a less-reliable antigen test upon arrival instead of an invasive, slower RT-PCR test starting Dec. 16. As a result, Thailand will maintain one day of quarantine, despite claiming its offering “no quarantine” entry.

On Monday, Department of Medical sciences Director-General Supakit Sirilak asserted that both RT-PCR and antigen test kits are capable of identifying Covid-19 infections caused by the Omicron variant.

However, he said two of 104 RT-PCR test liquids approved by the Food and Drug Administration to identify the coronavirus by analyzing its signature “spike” protein “could be an issue”.

On Tuesday, Supakit elaborated, saying an omicron-specific testing solution has not yet been developed, but that his department is on the tools to blend its own, and it should be ready in about two weeks.

Until then, Supakit said, officials will continue to use testing solutions for the alpha and beta variants to detect Omicron. If tests with both kinds of solution return positive, infection with the Omicron variant can be confirmed, he said.

Fifteen medical science centers were instructed to apply the technique as the mutation found in alpha and beta are similar to that found in omicron.

Those 15 labs, Supakit assured, will quickly discover an omicron samples as their priority has shifted to checking for the new, potentially more dangerous variant.

He said genome sequencing normally takes about a week and targeted sequencing of only part of the virus’ genome only three days. However, the Thai labs are using an approach that can flag the omicron variant in one or two days.

As of Monday, the had yet to discover the variant among samples collected since Thailand’s reopening to international visitors on Nov. 1. But he admitted only 83 samples had been sequenced.

The National News Bureau of Thailand and Thailand News Agency contributed to this report.