GIBRALTAR scientists will now be able to identify the strain of any COVID-19 case within 72 hours, its government has announced.
The Gibraltar Health Authority has put together a team of experts to carry out the genome sequencing at the same local university laboratory used for analysing swabs earlier this year..
Consultant Medical Microbiologist Dr Nick Cortes and Dr Daniel Cassaglia, who headed the COVID-19 lab, are leading the team.
The government have left no stone unturned by bringing specialised sequencing equipment, allowing testing to start right away.
Plans to bring the advanced technology to Gibraltar came about after previous genome sequencing results took too long to arrive from the Public Health England.
“The results have taken up to two months to be reported due to a backlog caused by the large number of sequences being carried out in the UK,” said Dr Cassaglia.
“The local team aims to sequence all new positive cases in Gibraltar within 72 hours of a positive test so that the exact SARS-CoV-2 viral lineage causing the COVID-19 infection can be identified early on.”
This will allow not only Gibraltar’s cases to be identified but help the rest of the world understand the spread of the pandemic.
Dr Cortes said: “The Gibraltar COVID Lab are currently in the process of enrolling as a member of a UK genome sequencing consortium (COG-UK) based at Cambridge University.
“The team will be sharing all the virus sequences obtained in Gibraltar with the consortium and in that way contribute to the world-wide knowledge of Covid variants and patterns of transmission.”
This combined research could help discover new strains and find out how each variant behaves when faced with immunity from previous infection or vaccines.
“Knowing which variants are circulating in Gibraltar in real time will give us an important advantage in reducing the risk and managing any future COVID-19 outbreaks,” Dr Cortes added.
Minister for Health Samantha Sacramento said this new addition was proving ‘Gibraltar is punching well above its weight’ in this coronavirus crisis.
“Thanks to this further innovation, the GHA can gain a better understanding of the epidemiology, transmissibility and origin of the different variants affecting us in Gibraltar,” said Sacramento.
“It will also help with contact tracing and allow us to quickly suppress any variants of concern which may include those that are known to be less susceptible to current vaccines.”