Australia’s national science agency has developed a monitoring system to analyze wastewater samples to detect COVID-19 on long haul flights.
Researchers in Australia say wastewater testing is another line of defense against COVID-19. The country closed its borders to most foreigners in March 2020 and restricted entry and exit for Australian citizens to help contain the spread of the virus. However, the restrictions will be eased in November. With global travel returning, government science agency the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) believes wastewater testing on incoming flights can be an effective way to screen passengers for COVID-19.
According to Dr. Paul Bertsch, Director of Land and Water Sciences at CSIRO, the test is not time consuming.
“We can turn samples over in just four hours. But one of the things we’re working on is much faster methods so that we can spin samples even faster. So that the analyzes can actually be carried out while the passengers go through customs, pick up their luggage and so on, ”says Bertsch.
The study analyzed wastewater samples from toilets from 37 Australian government return flights from countries classified as COVID hotspots, including India, France, the UK, South Africa, Canada and Germany, which landed at Darwin International Airport between December 2020 and March this year .
The research found that 65% of flights “showed a positive signal for the virus that causes COVID-19”, although all passengers, except children under five, tested negative for the virus 48 hours before boarding.
Dr. Bertsch believes the system could be valuable.
“The WHO (World Health Organization) continues to suggest that we have to be prepared for variants that may be even more difficult than the delta variant. We can actually recognize variants in the wastewater, so that we would also give a signal when a certain variant, if it appeared anywhere in the world, would actually reach Australia, ”said Bertsch.
The Delta variant was first identified in India and is one of several worrying variants, health experts say. WHO uses terms such as “variants of concern” or “variants of interest” to warn of strains that could easily spread.
Australia’s health experts hope to be able to detect the virus with the study published in the journal Environmental International. The study is a collaboration between CSIRO, Australia’s national airline Qantas and the University of Queensland.