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Testing wastewater supports monitoring of COVID-19 in Singapore
As activities gradually resume in Singapore post-circuit breaker, we know that there will still be a risk of new waves of infection and phase 3 (‘new normal’) will last indefinitely until a vaccine or treatment is found. Expanding testing capacity is one of the ways that Singapore will work to prevent future resurges of COVID-19. When we get infected the virus passes through our bodies and into the sewage. Testing wastewater can complement clinical testing by providing a quick and cost-efficient way of tracking the extent of infection at population level, and also captures asymptomatic individuals. Singapore’s Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli, says on Facebook that he sees “good potential in wastewater surveillance to detect the spread of COVID-19”.
Currently ASE/SCELSE Associate Professor Janelle Thompson is leading a team of scientists from NTU-SCELSE and working with the NEA Environmental Health Institute to monitor the presence of the virus causing COVID-19 (SARS‐COV‐2) in wastewaters in Singapore. The project involves team members at the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology and parallel work in parts of the USA lead by MIT Professor Eric Alm (see more here). The researchers extract virus RNA from the wastewater samples, and then determine the presence and abundance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA, and apply modelling to monitor the presence of SARS CoV2 in the population.
Testing wastewater bypasses biases from clinical case reporting. Another advantage is that monitoring the virus in sewage collected from manholes can provide insight into its spatial distribution while sampling at local water treatment plants can help reveal when the virus levels rise and fall.