Scientists from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) have recently detected the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron in the majority of wastewater treatment plants tested in the City of Cape Town (COCT), as well as from a sample collected at the Cape Town International Airport.
According to SAMRC, the detection was confirmed by Dr Mongezi Mdhluli, leader of the SAMRC Wastewater Surveillance & Research Programme (SAMRC-WSARP), that the variant is detected in the COCT’s wastewater system.
Director of the SAMRC Genomics Centre, Prof Craig Kinnear indicated South African scientists have been monitoring the concentration of fragments of the COVID-19 virus RNA in wastewater in four South African provinces.
“Individuals with COVID-19 are known to shed the viral remains in their faeces. Although these fragments are not infectious, they can be detected in wastewater treatment plants and quantified to give an indication of likely COVID-19 cases locally.
“They can also be used to screen for circulating variants using PCR methods, as well as next-generation sequencing,” Kinnear said.
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According to the Deputy Director of the SAMRC’s Biomedical Research & Innovation Platform Rabia Johnson, they have discovered the Omicron variant in 11 of 12 (92%) samples of wastewater collected from Cape Town treatment plants on November 30.
“We have also detected Omicron in a series of wastewater samples collected from the Cape Town International Airport and our data at this stage show that Omicron was first detected at the airport on November 23,” Johnson added.
Meanwhile, the detection of the Omicron variant in wastewater in Cape Town coincides with an increase in cases of COVID-19 in the city as the new variant has spread to rural areas outside the COCT, however, a sample of wastewater collected from the rural town of Rawsonville in the Breede Valley indicated the absence of Omicron, with the Delta variant remaining dominant.
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