New technology which aims to rapidly detect new Covid mutations by indicating whether positive test samples contain known variants is being trialled by the government.

It is hoped the technology – known as ‘genotype assay testing’ – will mean that cases of variants of concern are detected faster than before, potentially halving the time it takes to detect a case. By notifying those affected more quickly, this could allow contacts of positive cases to be traced sooner, breaking the chains of transmission and stopping the spread of variants.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Innovation is at the heart of our fight against Covid-19 and has a key part to play in controlling the spread of the virus. We must not stand still if we are to beat Covid-19 and safely ease restrictions in the coming months.

“That is why our goal is to eventually test every Covid positive sample for mutations, that indicate known variants, using this ground breaking new technology. This type of testing will help us rapidly identify variant cases and trace contacts quicker than ever before, helping stop outbreaks in their tracks and ensuring we can continue to follow the roadmap we have set out to get back to normal life.”

Genotype assays would complement existing surveillance work that uses genomic sequencing to look for variants in Covid-positive samples. Genomic sequencing surveillance will continue to detect new variants and mutations.

Where new variants or mutations are identified, the technology could be adapted to test for them as well, meaning the technology can be easily deployed to track the variants of most concern.

Health minister Lord Bethell added: “The progress made so far developing these new genotype assays is very encouraging and I am confident we will see positive outcomes from piloting this technology.

“Using this test to identify known variant of concern cases has the potential to accelerate our knowledge and understanding of variants of concern and halt their spread across the country.”