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Saturday, Jan 22, 2022

HKU researchers succeed in isolating Omicron variant, pave way for vaccines

HKU researchers succeed in isolating Omicron variant, pave way for vaccines

In Asia's first, researchers at the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong have succeeded in isolating the Omicron variant from clinical specimens.
The isolated variant will enable the development and production of vaccines against Omicron, which has been designated as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization.

The isolation was successfully performed on Monday, four days after the first two Omicron cases were confirmed in Hong Kong on November 25, and five days after the variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24.

Researchers during the isolation process added the sample of the Omicron mutant strain into the Covid susceptible cells, Vero E6 cells, infecting the cells with the virus. The virus will then reproduce massively and dilute the concentration level of other substances in the cells.

Cytopathic effects, where the cells would round and shrink, started to appear at 24 hours and were completed in 48 hours.

“We recognize the serious threats of the variant and jumped into action immediately,“ said Chair of Infectious Diseases Yuen Kwok-yung who led the research team. “Isolating the variant is the first step in the urgent study of the variant,” he continued.

Virus isolation and incubation were conducted at the biosafety level 3 laboratory, or P3 laboratory, of the University of Hong Kong, the only one in the city, following standard operating procedures.

The microbiology team is now working to further isolate and purify the variant virus for inactivated whole virus vaccine production, according to the university.

The variant was named Omicron on November 26 by WHO and cases have been reported from around the globe like Australia, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel and Canada. Governments subsequently imposed urgent travel bans and heightened surveillance.

The SAR government on Tuesday evening announced that starting Friday (Dec 3), Hongkongers returning from Japan, Portugal and Sweden must have completed vaccination course and tested negative for Covid before boarding a plane and must undergo 21-day quarantine upon arrival.

The arrangement came as cases involving the Omicron variant have been reported in these three countries. Non-residents who had been to these three countries will be banned from entering Hong Kong on the other hand.

A third Omicron case was identified in Hong Kong on Sunday, involving a 37-year-old man returning from Nigeria via Ethiopia and Thailand who tested positive during his quarantine at a local hotel.
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