As countries around the world prepare for the arrival of the omicron variant of COVID-19, research teams in Saskatchewan are working to test the newly discovered strain in the province.
For the past two weeks, researchers at the University of Regina have been looking for traces of omicron in the city’s wastewater, with the help of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. The lab provided sequencing data to the team to identify all samples containing the variant.
So far, all test results in Regina have been negative.
At the University of Saskatchewan, the Global Institute for Water Security (GIWS) is preparing to begin testing for the newly discovered variant, which is expected to begin this week.
For more than a year, the institute has been using wastewater samples taken from treatment plants in Saskatoon, North Battleford and Prince Albert, and testing them for COVID-19. The samples are used to predict cases of the virus in the future and whether they should increase or decrease.
âOnce a different variant is detected, we need to have genetic markers specific to it,â said Kerry McPhedran, associate professor of environmental engineering at the institute.
âBasically what the test does is find these markers and amplify them, so we need something that can find that marker and look for it.â
The omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa at the end of last month, remains a big question mark for researchers.
Experts around the world are studying how easily it spreads from person to person, as well as how easily it is transmitted and how it affects people who are infected.
McPhedran said it’s unclear what omicron will look like in Saskatchewan.
“We can only guess what the real impacts will be,” he said. âYou see a lot of, you know, ‘Will the vaccinations work or not? ” in the media. We are at the same stage because we can only guess what the impacts will be. ”
So far, five cases of the omicron variant have been reported in Saskatchewan. A new case was reported on Monday, while four more cases were confined to a family who had recently traveled to an African country that had been reported as a risk of omicron transmission.
Temporary Decreasing COVID-19 Levels, Studies Find
The latest information from the GIWS wastewater investigation appears to show low levels of COVID-19 across Saskatchewan, the institute said.
Meanwhile, the latest study also showed increases in Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford. Still, the institute noted that tests a week ago showed levels below the detection limit, which is why levels of COVID-19 can be considered low at this time.
The University of Regina study also showed that the viral levels of the disease had declined.
However, McPhedran pointed out that cases in Ontario and Quebec tend to increase right now, and said the same could happen in Saskatchewan.
âWe think it’s going to go up again, and that’s just because winter is coming and we’re getting together more frequently indoors,â he explained. “In terms of predicting beyond that, we have to look at the sewage and see what that tells us.”