COVID Near-Border Testing Expansion

The safety of South Australia’s border has been strengthened by the recent expansion of wastewater testing to COVID-19 in Mount Gambier.

Minister for Health and Wellbeing Stephen Wade said high levels of testing of individuals had played an important role in keeping South Australians protected from the spread of the disease to this point.

“In response to the Victorian COVID threat, which recorded more than 480 positive cases yesterday, we have conducted record numbers of tests in South Australia throughout the past week,” Minister Wade said.

“Launching wastewater testing near the Victorian border at Mount Gambier to actively monitor the underlying level of COVID-19 in the community is another part of the Marshall Liberal Government’s strong plan to protect South Australians from the spread of the disease.”

Minister Wade said wastewater sampling had proven to be an effective way to monitor COVID-19 in the community with South Australia leading the way in expanding its surveillance.

“Supplementing our current testing methods with sewage monitoring has the potential to provide us with early warning signs of COVID-19 in our state and an indicator of increased prevalence in the community, should an outbreak occur,” Minister Wade said.

“We have expanded our surveillance methods to focus on the border with Victoria to ensure we have a clear picture of the levels – if any – of COVID-19 in the surrounding communities.

“The health and safety of South Australians living in the border communities is a high priority. The earlier the warning that someone has COVID-19, the quicker our public health team can respond.”

Three mobile testing clinics have also recently been set up at key border crossings at Bordertown, Mount Gambier and Yamba to further strengthen SA Pathology’s already robust response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vans are specifically for South Australians entering the state from Victoria and are not available for routine swabbing of individuals living locally.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Principal Water Quality Adviser, Dr David Cunliffe, said wastewater testing is ongoing at SA Water’s Bolivar, Christies Beach, Glenelg, Port Lincoln and Angaston wastewater treatment plants.

“SA is contributing to a major national project coordinated by Water Research Australia identifying innovative ways to test and monitor for COVID-19 and SA Health and SA Water worked quickly to develop an appropriate method to detect the virus in wastewater,” Dr Cunliffe said.

“We detected low-level positives in samples collected and stored from two metropolitan treatment plants from when there were significantly more local cases earlier this year.

“We also detected low-levels of COVID-19 in one of our quarantine facilities when we knew three positive cases were isolating there.

“In the last two weeks, SA Water has used these samples to validate the method, giving us confidence in the accuracy of our results.

“We are now looking to expand the water sampling to other regional areas and places where we might expect more tourists and other interstate travellers.”

SA Water Senior Manager Water Expertise and Research, Dr Daniel Hoefel, said developing a working detection method in a short timeframe is a credit to both the expertise of the utility’s scientists and the Australian water industry’s collaborative spirit.

“Detecting the virus in wastewater is more complex when compared to clinical samples such as a patient swab, however our professional monitoring tool is capable of detecting very low levels of COVID-19 in sewage samples,” Dr Hoefel said.

“Our technique includes concentrating the sewage samples, extraction of the virus’ nucleic acid and detection using a specialised test known as polymerase chain reaction, before applying cutting-edge nucleic acid sequencing to verify the results.

“With our surveillance tool deployed across multiple metropolitan and regional areas, we’ll keep a keen eye on South Australia’s sewage for any signs of the virus re-emerging while continuing to improve the methodology.

“During times of emergency, it’s in the nature of the people in both the water and health industries to do whatever they can to protect the health of our communities and we’re proud to play this role in our state’s response to the pandemic.”

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