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UPDATE 3-Quest Diagnostics sees uptick in COVID-19 testing as Delta variant spreads

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(Adds executive comments from investor call)

By Mrinalika Roy and Carl O'Donnell

July 22 (Reuters) - U.S. laboratory Quest Diagnostics Inc said on Thursday demand for COVID-19 testing had increased since the end of June as the more infectious Delta variant spreads across the country.

The comments come as the Delta variant has become the dominant version of the virus in the United States and many other countries, sparking fears of slower economic recovery and pummelling stock markets earlier this week.

The improvements in COVID-19 testing demand and a rebound in its core non-coronavirus businesses helped the company forecast full-year revenue between $9.54 billion and $9.79 billion, above a Refinitiv IBES estimate of $9.49 billion.

The company also beat expectations for second-quarter results, driven by 40.2% growth in its unit that provides tests for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases, and neurology.

The results signaled that demand for Quest and rival Abbott Laboratories' non-COVID-19 businesses was returning as vaccinated Americans become more comfortable with visiting doctors for regular check-ups and other ailments.

"We expect people to return to pre-pandemic health care and in some cases, catch up with health care they might have postponed during the pandemic," Chief Executive Officer Stephen Rusckowski said during a call with analysts.

Quest, which had warned of waning demand for coronavirus tests earlier in 2021 after generating billions of dollars in sales last year, said it expects a decline in clinical testing of COVID-19 in the second half of the year.

But it expects a rise in surveillance and pooled testing for schools and offices.

"COVID-19 testing remains critical as people return to work and schools reopen in the next few weeks," Rusckowski said.

The company expects to perform at least 20,000 COVID-19 molecular tests per day during the second half of 2021, below the average of 57,000 COVID-19 molecular tests a day in the second quarter.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)