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Wastewater sampling in Gippsland the next front in the war on COVID-19

As the world continues the fight against COVID-19, water utilities around Australia are joining forces in a national project using wastewater sampling to detect coronavirus and help slow the spread.

Gippsland Water is one utility onboard with the project, and Managing Director Sarah Cumming said the utility is pleased to be playing an important role in helping to keep Victorian communities safe.

“While the project is in its early stages, testing wastewater may provide an early warning as to where the virus might be present in the community,” Cumming said.

“Ultimately, this may help inform policy makers and health authorities to slow the spread.”

The Australia-wide ColoSSos Project — Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance of SARS-COV-2 — will track and monitor the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 in sewerage networks, which aims to provide invaluable information on the virus’ location and prevalence within the population.

Participation in the project includes taking samples from wastewater treatment plants with analytic data, which is then shared with the Victorian government.

“We’re taking weekly samples at our Moe and Warragul wastewater treatment plants, and at the Gippsland Water Factory,” Cumming said.

“Samples are then sent to the laboratory to be analysed for the virus and that data is used to inform the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services in its efforts to control the virus.”

The analytic data could be used to inform policy measures such as limits on gatherings and travel, and may enable more effective targeting of investment and pandemic control efforts.

The national project includes 12 utility partners, six health departments and 10 research organisations, and is coordinated by Water Research Australia (WaterRA).

AWA and WaterRA have now partnered to transfer these methods to monitor SARS-CoV-2 in sewage, wastewater and stormwater to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand to inform COVID-19 Government controls.