The newly detected Coronavirus variant, Omicron, has spread to at least 29 countries, the Health Ministry officials in India said, as they confirmed two cases of the new variant detected in Karnataka.
While researchers across the world are studying the B.1.1.529 variant that was first detected in South Africa on November 09, several social media posts falsely claim the Omicron variant escapes the existing testing methods, including the widely used RT-PCR test which is considered the gold standard for testing COVID-19.
Newchecker found the unsubstantiated claim is widely shared across platforms including Twitter and Facebook.
Newschecker also received WhatsApp forwards making similar claims on its helpline number (+91 9999499044).
The forward, allegedly from a doctor’s association in South Africa claims, “the nasal swab” for the Omicron variant “is often negative for COVID19.”
Another widely shared post claims that the National Health Service (NHS), the United Kingdom’s government health department, is offering free COVID-19 tests specifically to detect the Omicron variant, as the current testing method, the RT PCR, does not detect the new strain.
An image showing a mail received by the NHS reads, “as the new COVID variant Omicron has quickly become apparent, we have had to make the new test kits as the new variant appears dormant in the original test kits.”
What is the RT PCR test?
Considered to be the gold standard to detect COVID19, the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT PCR) test is in use for over four decades and is used to detect Ebola virus, Swine flu and other influenza viruses.
The RT PCR test analyses samples from the upper respiratory tract and detects SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by amplifying “small amounts of (ribonucleic acid) RNA from specimens into deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which is replicated until SARS-CoV-2 is detectable if present.”
To check if the RT PCR tests can detect the Omicron strain of Coronavirus, Newchecker first searched for World Health Organisation’s updates on the new strain and found, “The widely used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron…”
The report dated November 28 further adds, “Studies are ongoing to determine whether there is any impact on other types of tests, including rapid antigen detection tests.”
To verify if NHS is offering “new test kits” to detect Omicron, Newchecker ran a keyword on Twitter and found a post by NHS urging, “Beware of fake NHS emails asking you to order an Omicron PCR test” along with a link to an article on Phishing emails.
Further Newschecker found a Tweet by Faheem Younus, chief of infectious diseases at University of Maryland, stating, “The regular PCR test can give test+ve patients a preliminary answer if they are infected with Omicron variant or not.”
Newschecker reached out to eminent virologist T Jacob John to know if the Omicron strain can be detected by RT-PCR test and he said, it is the most sensitive test we have and “there is no reason why RT PCR test will not detect the Omicron variant.”
Social media posts claiming the Omicron variant cannot be detected in the current testing methods are false.
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