Questions from a plague house: is it omicron or delta?

Like many of you, I have spent my Christmas isolating in a plague house.

Our daughter tested positive shortly after she finished school – where the virus had been rampaging around her class like Boris Johnson at a Christmas party.

With a lot of time on our hands, we have whiled away a few happy hours wondering which of the two possible variants she has – yet it has been impossible to find out.

It shouldn’t be. In Scotland, 95 per cent of all PCR tests go through a process which allows a thing called a “S gene dropout” to be identified. That doesn’t definitively mean the case is omicron, but it does mean it is not the previous dominant strain of delta – and no other Covid strains circulating in Scotland at the moment have the S gene dropout characteristic. Of those tests, only a small proportion is sent off for full genomic testing, hence the (relatively) low number of confirmed omicron cases reported.

When my daughter received her positive result, I asked Test and Protect if they could tell me which variant she was suspected to have and was told that they did not have that information, but said if anyone was believed to have omicron (ie if their test had come back with the dropped S gene), they would receive a separate phone call "from the health board”.

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Yet, I have not yet heard of anyone who has received such a call – despite knowing dozens of people who have tested positive recently. With omicron now accounting for around two thirds of cases across Scotland, it seems unlikely that all of those cases have been delta.

Knowing which variant someone has would be useful. If my daughter has omicron, she can return to school with a degree of confidence that she is not going to get it again, for a while, at least. As a family – where all the adults are triple jabbed and well protected against delta - we could relax without worrying that she will bring home the new variant to grandparents.

Yet we just don’t know and we likely never will – until she gets omicron next term and we all succumb. That will be something to look forward to.

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