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Australia to assist South East Asia with early warning COVID-19 surveillance

The Australian water sector is set to help five South East Asian nations develop an early warning surveillance system to track COVID-19 prevalence in wastewater in a new partnership between the Australian Water Association (AWA) and Water Research Australia.

Developed in Australia as part of the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery — Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response, the system tracks COVID-19 in the prevalence of wastewater, allowing governments to better prepare for, respond to and recover from the pandemic.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand are participating in the program, which has received funding from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade through the Australian Water Partnership’s Australia-Mekong Water Facility Grant.

The Partnerships for Recovery policy redirected more than $280 million from existing development programs to support the medical and humanitarian needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic in the Pacific region, East Timor and countries in South-East Asia.

AWA Chief Executive Corinne Cheeseman said the project is an opportunity for Australia to support its neighbours and would showcase the country’s leading researchers and practitioners in water and human health.

“This project will enhance the capacity of environmental surveillance systems for detecting SARS-CoV-2 in the communities of Mekong countries,” Cheeseman said, referring to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“This is a great opportunity for the Australian water sector and South-East Asian nations to connect and share innovation that will support over 250 million people across the Mekong as they respond and recover from COVID-19.”

The environmental surveillance methods were developed through Australia’s ColoSSos — Collaboration of Sewage Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 — Project, and its implementation in South-East Asia has been supported by the Australian Water Partnership’s Australia-Mekong Water Facility Grant.

Water Research Australia Chief Executive Karen Rouse said she was delighted that the project would support others in the region.

“We are looking forward to connecting leading practitioners from Australian universities, utilities, health agencies and laboratories with their counterparts in Mekong countries to enhance their capacity for environmental surveillance of SARS-CoV-2,” Rouse said.

“We are optimistic that this program will make a significant contribution towards Mekong countries achieving early warning detection of outbreaks, timely control measures and a more rapid return to normality.”