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Omicron variant isolated by HKU team in Asia first

Xinhua | Updated: 2021-12-01 10:57
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Photo taken on Dec 1, 2021 shows the Omicron variant isolated by the University of Hong Kong (HKU) team. [Photo/]

HONG KONG -- Researchers at the Department of Microbiology at The University of Hong Kong (HKU) have succeeded in the isolation of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant from clinical specimens.

This is the first known research team in Asia that has succeeded in isolating the Omicron variant, HKU said in an online statement Tuesday.

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 Organization (WHO).

The HKU team succeeded in isolating the variant late Monday local time, 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.

Cases of the Omicron variant have since been reported from around the world, as governments impose urgent travel bans and heightened surveillance.

"We recognize the serious threats of the variant and jumped into action immediately," said Chair of Infectious Diseases Professor Kwok-yung Yuen, who led the research effort. "Isolating the variant is the first step in the urgent study of the variant."

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.

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