Canberra’s sewage system is COVID-free

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Environmental epidemiologist Dr Aparna Lal. Photo: Lannon Harley, ANU.

A TESTING program, led by ANU experts, has found no traces of COVID-19 in Canberra’s sewage system.

Testing sewage is a rapid and inexpensive way of tracking the coronavirus and potential community transmission, according to environmental epidemiologist and project lead, Dr Aparna Lal, who said the testing of daily samples throughout May found no SARS-CoV-2 in sewage from Canberra.

“We tested 25 samples in May from Icon Water’s sewage treatment plant, covering the whole of ACT population, and found no traces of SARS-CoV-2 RNA,” she said.

“This coincides with the period that the ACT was declared free of any new coronavirus cases. These are excellent outcomes, and show the Canberra community are listening to and following health advice and that we are all working extremely hard to stop the potential spread of COVID-19.”

The samples from Icon Water’s sewage treatment plant were analysed using advanced genetic testing, to detect SARS-CoV2 and a range of other viruses. While genetic material for a number of viruses was identified, indicating the test worked, no traces of SARS-CoV2 were found in the ACT sewage system, the experts said.

Dr Lal, based at the ANU Research School of Population Health, said sewage testing allowed health authorities to effectively track the potential spread of viruses like SARS-CoV2 outside of patient testing or hospital reporting.

“This shows us that we can actively monitor the presence of SARS-CoV2 through sewage and that based on all the samples we have processed there are no high levels of undetected community transmission in the ACT,” Dr Lal said.

“As we ease social distancing measures, we will continue to monitor the ACT’s sewage on a daily basis to further support the Territory’s public health response to the pandemic.”

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