REGINA -- The Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory (RRPL) can now test for COVID-19 variants of concern, the Government of Saskatchewan confirmed on Monday afternoon.

It said the RRPL has completed the validation process in order to support whole genome sequencing.

This new test will determine if a positive COVID-19 case is a variant of concern.

The test will also determine the type of variant the positive COVID-19 case is.

The testing will start immediately with RRPL having the capacity to test 192 samples per week.

"In order to monitor for variants of concern, the RRPL will continue to focus whole genome sequencing testing on COVID positive results linked to international travel, declared outbreaks and cases of unexpected severe illness, as well as a random sampling of confirmed cases,"  a Government press release said.

Saskatchewan will continue to send 120 samples per week to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

Kyle Anderson, a microbiology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and said the province's ability to test for variants will allow health officials to respond to potential COVID-19 outbreaks quicker.

"That means we can do every single travel case every single week," Anderson said. "We can also probably get everyone sent to the hospital who has COVID and make sure they get sequenced. If we have any super spreader events at a restaurant or a bar or a tournament of some kind, we can sequence a few people within there."

It takes around two weeks to get results for tests sent to the lab in Winnipeg. Anderson said now that Saskatchewan has the ability to do its own testing for variants, the province can change up the order of what tests are being tested, if needed.

"Being able to control our own sequencing means that suddenly we can queue jump ourselves," Anderson said. "We could have samples that were slotted into be sequenced, and then if suddenly there's an outbreak and we've got 20 year olds being hospitalized, we can say, those are the ones we want to do today. Rather than saying it's already behind another 100 samples that we sent off to Winnipeg. We can say this is the critical one, and this is where we need to focus our attention and having the ability to do it here it means we can do it really quickly."