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Testing waste water for coronavirus

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Photo of a lab official working with test tube samples in a lab

Today there has been further coverage in The Sun and BBC News about the Defra-led project to research whether genetic material (RNA) from coronavirus can be detected in sewage. It is hoped this could be used to detect the prevalence of the virus in the population, including those who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic.

While sampling is underway across 44 sites in England, we will be only be able to fully assess if the approach works when more data is available. The aim of the programme is to feed into the Covid-19 Alert System created by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC).

Initially announced on 12 June, the project brings together researchers, water companies and devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Environment Agency is leading on taking samples across the 44 sites in England, as well as using their own research teams and laboratory service to support this work.

A full analysis is needed before any decision to expand beyond these sites is made, and any further developments in the project will be announced in due course.

The World Health Organization is clear there is currently no evidence that coronavirus has been transmitted via sewerage systems.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said:

“We are working closely with researchers, water companies and devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to monitor for fragments of coronavirus genetic material in waste water.

“The aim of this new research is to give us a head start on where new outbreaks are likely to occur.

“Sampling has started across the country to further test the effectiveness of this new science. Research remains at an early stage and we are still refining our methods.”

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  1. Comment by Ray Walton posted on

    Why are you/they not testing river water where Covid-19 contaminated Raw Sewage is being discharged in low flows/no rainfall via CSO's and sewage work themselves...before it is even reaching sewage works for sewage treatment? You seem to be deliberately avoiding the issue that waterborne and airborne contamination risk to the public is a probability.