Diagnosis and characterisation of SARS – COVID-19 and variants of concern

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A pandemic is an epidemic occurring worldwide, and spread of SARS CoV2 from Hubei province in China globally has led to rapid changes in our approaches to diagnosis, with rapid use of molecular methods. The use of virus molecular characterisation techniques such as Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) has allowed assessment of emerging mutations such as SARS CoV2 Variants of Concern (VOC). We and others utilise novel diagnostics including sample pooling, reflex testing using WGS, and workflow changes to handle 7-10 fold increases in testing numbers. These diagnostics, and recently introduced WGS assessment of quality, VOCs and mutations affecting primer binding will be discussed.

About the speakers

Professor William Rawlinson AM FAHMS BSc(Med) MBBS PhD (Cantab) GCM FRACP FRCPA FASM FFSc. Director of Serology and Virology Division (SAViD), Director Organ and Tissue Donor screening laboratory, Director NSW State Reference Laboratory for HIV, Chair Biosecurity Quality Assurance Program (QAP) RCPAQAP, Deputy Chair Serology Quality Assurance Program (QAP) RCPAQAP, Chair WHO National Verification Committee for Measles and Rubella, Chair NSWMOH COVID19 Expert Reference Panel.
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William is a clinician scientist researching viral pathogenesis, particularly respiratory viral infections, congenital infections, and enteroviruses in type 1 diabetes mellitus. He established, and oversees, serology and virology clinical research programs, statewide transplant donor screening, and national quality programs for serology and biosecurity. He is conjoint professor at UNSW with over 400 publications and over 19,000 citations from his publications in basic research, diagnostic and clinical virology.

He is Director of NSW’s largest public testing laboratory for COVID-19. He contributes at least weekly to discourse in the television, radio and print media, has produced numerous webinars in partnership with NSW Health, and is founding member of national health organisations working on the COVID19 response – including the Public Health Laboratory Network, the Communicable Diseases Genomics Network, Expert Review Panels for Serology and Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), as well as the National COVID-19 Health and Research Advisory Committee (NCHRAC) for the NHMRC. His recent research has informed questions on the safety of breast milk during the pandemic (Walker et al 2020, J Paeds Ch Health), and improved approaches to outbreak investigation (Bull et al 2020, Nature Communications).