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Majority of Finnish labs unable to identify coronavirus variants

Sending samples to THL for confirmation of variants is leading to delays and longer periods in quarantine.

Sinisten suojakäsineiden peittämät kädet pitelevät CDNA-näytteitä lähikuvassa.
Samples are currently being sent to THL from many hospital districts to test for virus variants. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle
Yle News

The majority of testing laboratories in Finland are unable to determine if a positive coronavirus sample is a mutated virus variant, such as have spread in the UK, Ireland and South Africa.

Instead, the samples are sent to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) for further examination and confirmation.

In the Kainuu hospital district, this has led to a delay of nearly three weeks in determining if a newer, more highly contagious variant of the virus was spreading in the region.

The local authority sent samples of a virus type detected at the Samooja Rehabilitation Home to THL for examination on 11 January after the virus had spread rapidly among residents, relatives and workers at the facility.

The results became available on 27 January, when THL said the samples were not a known virus variant.

However, the waiting time for results meant those exposed to the virus had been in quarantine for longer than usual, according to Olli-Pekka Koukkari, the pandemic manager of the Kainuu district.

Currently, the Helsinki University Hospital District’s laboratory services arm, HUSLAB, tests all samples detected in the capital region, but samples from other hospital districts around the country which are suspected to be a virus variant are sent to THL.

Maija Lappalainen, Chief Physician of Clinical Microbiology at HUS, told Yle that it is not currently possible to quickly test samples for mutated variants: at best, the test takes several days as a number of different steps need to be taken.

Lappalainen added that this has led to a backlog of samples, but HUS is aiming at providing the results of virus variant tests within one week.

THL further stated that Finland’s largest laboratory company Fimlab as well as TYKS Clinical Microbiology are establishing variant testing processes in Tampere, and similar operations are likely to begin in the city of Turku next week.

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