Rapid PCR COVID Test That Can Detect Omicron in Just Four Hours Created by Scientists

South Korean scientists have developed a rapid PCR test that can detect the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in just four hours.

The new test kit that can detect the new and highly transmissible variant within hours will be made available in the country on December 30, privately owned South Korean news agency Newsis first reported.

The new PCR COVID-19 test is the world's first polymerase chain reaction reagent that can detect five major COVID-19 variants with a single test, according to the news agency.

The test cuts down the amount of time to identify the variant by days. The conventional testing method could only identify four major COVID-19 variants—Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on Friday announced that it had completed the development of the test.

Scientists began work on the test kit as part of efforts to strengthen monitoring of local outbreaks and cases of the Omicron variant in South Korea.

The Omicron variant was designated by the World Health Organization as a "variant of concern" on November 26, and has since been reported in some 90 countries.

South Korea on December 1 reported its first five cases of the variant, when a fully vaccinated couple tested positive after flying from Nigeria. Two family members and a friend subsequently tested positive, according to the KDCA. The country also announced a tightening of travel restrictions at the time.

A private expert advisory committee composed of experts in diagnostic tests and viruses was set up by authorities immediately after the Omicron variant was diagnosed by the WHO as a "variant of concern," according to Newsis.

The KDCA is expected to distribute the new test kit to 23 locations nationwide by December 29, including five regional response centers and 18 city and provincial health and environment research centers across the country.

"After a person has been confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19, with the current genomic sequencing, it took three to five days to determine whether the confirmed case has been infected with the Omicron variant," said KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong.

"With the supply of the new PCR reagent that can rapidly detect the Omicron variant, we are now able to see the analysis results within three to four hours after a person has been infected," Jeong said.

He added: "We hope the new PCR reagent will effectively prevent the spread of Omicron by quickly detecting the new coronavirus variant."

It is unclear whether the rapid PCR test will eventually be made available in other countries.

Its development comes as countries across the globe are seeing a spike in infections caused by the Omicron variant.

On Monday, the variant became the dominant source of new infections in the U.S, accounting for roughly 73 percent of new infections nationwide, per data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Man gets tested for COVID-19
A medical staff takes a nasal swab from a visitor as part of a test for COVID-19 at a virus testing center in Seoul on December 14, 2021. South Korean scientists have developed a rapid PCR test that can detect the Omicron variant in four hours. Jung Yeon-je / AFP/Getty Images