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ESR wastewater testing of COVID-19 showing no community spread

01 February 2021

Wastewater surveillance
Wastewater Covid Testing Container Single Esr
Wastewater Covid Testing Container Single Esr

ESR testing of wastewater for COVID-19 has so far showed no signs of community spread, but the crown research institute is urging people to stay vigilant.

Wastewater testing around the area of the latest cases has not picked up the SARS CoV-2 virus. Samples from Whangarei collected on the 26th January, and samples from the North Shore, Western Auckland, Central Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua and Christchurch collected on the 25th January, have all come back negative.

ESR science leader Dr Brent Gilpin says while these results are pleasing and appear to back-up other surveillance tools, it should not dissuade people from going for testing.

“Highly infectious individuals can shed billions of viruses which means it is possible to detect in wastewater the presence of just a few infected individuals, but testing can’t exclude the possibility of one or two infectious individuals. It’s an extra layer of protection to add to the existing methods New Zealand already has in place. Anyone who is symptomatic or thinks they may have been exposed to an infected person must get tested regardless of the sewage testing results.”

ESR is continuing to collect and analyse sewage samples from other locations throughout the country, including the Upper North Island and will report to the Ministry of Health any unexpected positive detections.

Testing from earlier in January detected SARS-CoV-2 in Christchurch wastewater at the same time as there were a number of cases in managed isolation facilities, and sewage from the Jet Park Hotel is consistently positive.

Dr Gilpin says that ESR is showing its commitment to protect communities through smart science. 

“This is another example of new science approaches that ESR is implementing including our genome sequencing, public health intelligence and saliva testing which are really adding depth and insight to New Zealand COVID-19 response.”

The COVID-19 wastewater surveillance research project is funded by Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.