Genetically distinct variants of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) have emerged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over this period, we developed a rapid platform (R-20) for viral isolation and characterization using primary remnant diagnostic swabs. This, combined with quarantine testing and genomics surveillance, enabled the rapid isolation and characterization of all major SARS-CoV-2 variants circulating in Australia in 2021. Our platform facilitated viral variant isolation, rapid resolution of variant fitness using nasopharyngeal swabs and ranking of evasion of neutralizing antibodies. In late 2021, variant of concern Omicron (B1.1.529) emerged. Using our platform, we detected and characterized SARS-CoV-2 VOC Omicron. We show that Omicron effectively evades neutralization antibodies and has a different entry route that is TMPRSS2-independent. Our low-cost platform is available to all and can detect all variants of SARS-CoV-2 studied so far, with the main limitation being that our platform still requires appropriate biocontainment.
© 2022. The Author(s).