Wastewater tests set to provide early warning of Covid spikes

Researchers are poised to start a programme of analysis of wastewater for coronavirus across the UK as part of an advance warning system to detect new outbreaks of  Covid 19.


The programme has emerged from recent research that showed that genetic material from the virus can be detected in wastewater. This could be used to detect the presence of the virus in the population, including those who are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic.

Data gathered will  feed into the Covid-19 Alert System created by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC).


This UK work is being coordinated by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency and the JBC, working closely with water companies and the Universities of Bangor, Edinburgh, Bath and Newcastle. Both UK Research and Innovation and the Natural Environment Research Council are involved.


In Scotland, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has already begun analysis of the first samples of waste water provided by Scottish Water, coordinating the work with the Scottish Government’s Centre of Expertise for Waters, the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Health Protection Scotland.


Ultimately samples from waste water at treatment works in each of the 14 NHS Scotland health board areas will be analysed by Sepa scientists.


Meanwhile the devolved administration in Wales has allocated £500,000 to a consortium led by Bangor University, working with Cardiff University, Public Health Wales and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water to develop a monitoring system.


Sampling will begin almost immediately in a small number of water treatment plants, rapidly expanding to up to 20 treatment plants that cover about 75% of the Welsh population.