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ESR’s Expanded Testing Confirms No Detection Of COVID-19 In Wastewater Outside Of Auckland

ESR’s expansion of its wastewater testing in response to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has seen samples collected from 148 locations covering an estimated 3.8 million people, and 95 percent of the New Zealand population connected to reticulated wastewater systems.

Dr Joanne Hewitt, Senior Scientist and project co-lead at ESR said there were no unexpected detections to report based on the testing from 98 locations in the North Island and 50 locations in South Island over the past two weeks.

“The team in ESR’s Porirua laboratory and those helping with sampling and transportation around Aotearoa have pulled out all the stops to ensure there is unprecedented coverage of wastewater for testing.

“While the latest results continue to detect SARS-CoV-2 (that causes COVID-19) in the Auckland region, there have been no unexpected detections around New Zealand. This includes from 26 sampling locations in Northland.”

Increased sampling in Northland took place as soon as possible following notification of the first community cases in Auckland. Over the past two weeks, samples have been taken from small populations of just over 100 to much larger areas such as Whangārei. Locations included Kerikeri, Dargaville, Hāruru, Hihi, Kaikohe, Kaitaia, Paihia, Rawene, Ruakaka and Russell. However, it is important to remember that wastewater testing doesn’t capture people who are on septic tanks.

“While we believe that it is possible to identify the virus from potentially just a single infected person, the likelihood of detection becomes much higher, the more cases in a community there are. So, while the absence of the virus in wastewater doesn’t guarantee that there isn’t someone potentially infectious present, but it does suggest that there aren’t lots of infected people.

“It is important to remember that wastewater sampling is just one part of New Zealand’s response to COVID-19. Community testing, genome sequencing and the actions of all of us to follow public health guidelines remains crucial,” said Dr Hewitt.

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