HONG KONG (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Hong Kong scientists have succeeded in isolating Omicron variant from clinical specimens which will help in developing vaccines against the new Covid-19 strain, The Hong Kong University (HKU) said on Tuesday (Nov 30).
In a statement, HKU said its Department of Microbiology researchers were the first known research team in Asia that has succeeded in isolating the Omicron variant.
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 Organisation (WHO).
The research team is now working on expanding the virus for use in assessing its transmissibility, immune evasion capability and pathogenicity in animal models.
The team is also exploring opportunities for urgent development and production of inactivated whole virus vaccines, the HKU said.
The HKU team succeeded in isolating the variant late on Monday, four days after the first two Omicron cases were confirmed in Hong Kong on Nov 25 , and five days after the variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Nov 24.
WHO designated the variant, initially identified as B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, and named it Omicron on Nov 26.
Cases of the Omicron variant have since been reported from around the world in countries and regions such as Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France and Canada, as governments impose urgent travel bans and heightened surveillance.
“We recognise the serious threats of the variant and jumped into action immediately,” Professor Kwok-yung Yuen, chair of Infectious Diseases, who led the research effort, said in a statement.
“Isolating the variant is the first step in the urgent study of the variant.”
Other leaders of the research team include Professor Honglin Chen and Dr Kelvin To, head of the Department of Microbiology.
“We are glad that our department is contributing to the global effort to fight the pandemic amid the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant,” Dr To said.
On Nov 28, a 37-year-old man returning from Nigeria via Ethiopia and Thailand became the city’s third patient infected with the Omicron variant after he tested positive during his quarantine at a local hotel.
Virus isolation and incubation were conducted at the biosafety level 3 laboratory (P3 laboratory) of the HKU, following standard operating procedures. HKU currently has the only P3 laboratory in Hong Kong.
The microbiology team is now working to further isolate and purify the variant virus for inactivated whole virus vaccine production.