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Prof Christine Carrington

Research by the University of the West Indies (UWI) has confirmed that the new United Kingdom and South African variants of the COVID-19 virus are not in circulation in T&T.

The announcement came from professor of Molecular Biology and Virology, Christine Carrington.

“We have also screened other samples provided by the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health and by CARPHA for both the UK variant and the South African variants that are of concern. So far we have not detected…any of them in the Trinidad and Tobago samples,” she said.

To test for these new variants, Prof Carrington explained the leftover genetic material from the testing process for the public was used. “When swabs are taken from individuals for diagnostic testing, the first step that happens is they extract genetic material from that sample and that is what they use to do the PCR test to detect whether the virus is present (in that person) or not,” she said.

“When they extract that RNA, they don’t need all of it for the diagnostic testing. Usually, they have excess and that is stored in a freezer. That is where we were getting our material from so they would share that material with us.”

She said they used stored samples from around the time the variants were known to be circulating internationally as well as samples collected more recently. This, she said, allows them to observe the virus’ evolution.

“By analysing the genetic sequence of the virus in the sample, what we can do is determine the particular lineage of the virus that it belongs to, and there is a lot of other…inferences that we can make about the virus. (For instance) how it is spreading and how different lineages are connected and things like that,” she said.

The new variant was discovered to be circulating in the United Kingdom mid-December.

Although investigations are ongoing into it, officials believe the strain is more easily transmissible than others. However, early indications do not indicate that it is more deadly nor that it would compromise the efficacy and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. (RK)