A SMELLY solution to identifying coronavirus outbreaks amongst people without symptoms being uncovered more quickly is being tested in Colchester.

A Government project launched in June is successfully detecting traces of Covid-19 in wastewater flushed away down sinks, toilets and drains.

If traces are found then information is shared with NHS Test and Trace which can given a clearer picture of infection rates by identifying where there are high numbers, particularly for asymptomatic carriers and before people start showing symptoms.

Testing is now taking place at the Anglia Water site in Colchester - one of just five places in the East to benefit from the scheme.

Defra, the Environment Agency and the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) are collaborating on the English programme and chairing a UK-wide group to ensure coordination between Scottish Government, Welsh Government and academic projects. The testing is being led by the Environment Agency’s Starcross laboratory in Exeter.

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Sewage has been monitored for viruses such as Norovirus and Hepatitis for some ten years and similar skills are now being used during the pandemic.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “This is a significant step forward in giving us a clearer idea of infection rates both nationally and locally, particularly in areas where there may be large numbers of people who aren’t showing any symptoms and therefore aren’t seeking tests.

“NHS Test and Trace is able to use the science to ensure local health leads are alerted and can take action.

“We are continuing to look at how this programme can be refined as one of the many measures we’re using to slow the spread of the virus and protect local communities.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: “This initiative is just one example of how we are working across government and with local partners to find innovative, new ways to track the outbreak, slow the spread of the virus and save lives.


“Monitoring and sampling wastewater offers another tool to help us identify outbreaks early on – helping NHS Test and Trace and local authorities target hotspots quickly and effectively.

“As we see an increase in cases across the country, it remains vitally important that everyone continues to follow Hands, Face and Space, gets a test and self-isolates if they display any Covid-19 symptoms and follows the advice of NHS Test and Trace.”

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “Sewage is a rich source of information about community health.

“I recently visited Starcross laboratory and saw the testing, monitoring and analysis carried out by the Environment Agency’s wastewater experts.

“I was inspired by their collaborative approach with academics, industry and government to help provide an early warning system for local coronavirus outbreaks.”