NDTV Coronavirus

At Kerala’s Omicron Testing Centre, A Race To Examine 30 Samples


Omicron testing is being conducted at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in Thiruvananthapuram.


After confirming the first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Kerala is running the genome sequencing tests on 30 more samples at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology in Thiruvananthapuram.

As NDTV stepped into the laboratory – where the initial 8-hour preparatory work on the samples is done – the team members were seen wearing Personal Protective Equipment or PPE kits, working on samples in the demarcated task-specific cabins.

“We have been sent four samples from the primary contacts of the first Omicron positive case. Apart from this, there are around 25 samples we have received from different international airports in the state of passengers who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Dr Radhakrishnan, the scientist in charge of the laboratory where the genome sequencing is being done, told NDTV. The first Omicron case in Kerala, of a UK-returned passenger, was confirmed by the state Health Minister on December 12th.

Genome sequencing at this centre can take up to a maximum of 72 hours and an additional day or two for bioinformatic details when full capacity.

“We have a maximum capacity of doing genome sequencing for 3,000 samples a day. When we confirmed the first case, we had just eight samples with us. One flow cell can be used only once and can take a maximum of up to 96 samples. Each flow cell costs 1.2 lakh,” Dr Radhakrishnan explained.

The centre’s laboratory has been working round the clock, without any off days since March 2020.

“This is a national emergency. We have had to put on hold or keep aside specific time slots for other forms of sequencing and prioritise COVID-19 and Omicron. It’s all hands on [deck],” Dr Radhakrishnan said.

On being asked if the time taken to confirm Omicron through a genome sequence in India is higher than other countries, Dr Radhakrishnan showed the extremely compact hand-held machine “Oxford Nanopore” – one of the three machines they use – and said, “This is very much standard. There is no other technology in the world that can do faster than this. Because none of the technology we use in India is currently indigenous. So whatever system the US has, is the same system India has or anywhere else in the world.”