The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is overseeing the Victorian wastewater surveillance program with support from Victorian water utilities in the collection of wastewater samples.
The testing methods were developed through the Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 (ColoSSoS) project, led by Water Research Australia. Multiple laboratories and researchers have been involved including Australian Laboratory Services (ALS), The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Water, Monash University, Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory (VIDRL), Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI), SA Water and Sydney Water.
The samples will be tested for fragments of SARS-CoV-2, the specific virus that causes coronavirus (COVID-19). The samples will help health officials identify if it is present in communities, specifically where these communities currently have no known cases of coronavirus (COVID-19). Depending on the location and context, this can prompt increased or targeted wastewater testing, as well increased or targeted public health advice for individual testing and other protective measures.
All work with wastewater is always carried out under the strictest safety conditions. All of our workers, including our wastewater workers, are operating under a COVIDSafe Plan that includes full and appropriate personal protective equipment when handling wastewater.
The program is being coordinated by Water Research Australia. Water Research Australia is working with national experts in health, microbiology, laboratory testing, and wastewater-based epidemiology. They are also liaising with state and territory health authorities to develop wastewater surveillance as a complementary tool to assist health departments with the early detection of undiagnosed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19).
No. North East Water is collecting the samples - the testing itself is being conducted at laboratories in Melbourne as directed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Yes. Water utilities across Australia are involved in the program. The significant contributions from water utilities are critical to the success of this program. Water utilities are best placed to understand the finer details of their sewer networks. They are also working collaboratively with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the wider water sector to support the design of the sampling program and the logistics of delivering samples to laboratories for testing.
Testing for SARS-CoV-2 fragments in wastewater is a specialised test and is not routinely available. The current sampling locations have been decided by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Sampling sites are chosen based on a number of factors, however the main aim is to sample from sites that will provide the most useful data in the context of the Victorian response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.