Poo test to find early geographical COVID outbreaks
Testing of Sydney's sewage for signs of coronavirus will be stepped up to help identify unsuspecting spreaders of the disease by postcode.
Experts from Sydney Water and NSW Health are deploying extra staff in the fight against COVID-19 to flush out carriers who are asymptomatic, the mildly infected and itinerant workers and pinpoint geographical zones throughout Sydney's 26,000km wastewater network as well as the regions.
Technicians and scientists battling to thwart the spread of SARSCoV-2 are aiming to almost double the rate of sample testing from 80 per week to more than 150 a week by Christmas at Sydney Water's Monitoring Services Laboratory, arming NSW Health officials with crucial intelligence to fire off public health alerts that call for community testing.
Targeted surveillance will be aimed at South Western Sydney, Western Sydney and South Eastern Sydney, where locally transmitted cases have emerged.
Experts hope targeted sampling will act as an early detection tool to encourage localised community testing within larger catchment areas such as Malabar, with its population of 1.8 million, and relieve pressure on the public health system.
Since July, the Ryde laboratory's 20 technicians have detected 25 molecular fragments of the virus in waste water collected from 40 Sydney and regional sewerage plants - six of those from Malabar and five from Bondi quarantine hotels.
This month, shock clusters were detected at Quakers Hills, Bathurst, West Camden and North Richmond.
At the sprawling Sydney Water laboratory, scientists test wastewater samples which arrive in 500ml bottles from treatment plants across Sydney and Wollongong.
The cleaning zone sees the wastewater mixed with hydrochloride acid to reduce the pH balance to 3 so its DNA can be extracted. Technicians in the extraction room then remove the RNA - the DNA photocopy of the cell - which is stored in freezers.
Samples are cross-copied in a QPCR machine so they can be seen by the naked eye.
Scientists and lab technicians are seeing the highest concentration of virus shed in phlegm but it is also detected in faeces, spittle, urine and kitchen and bathroom water.
Technicians can extract and detect the virus within 48 hours of testing.
"Sewerage testing is a critical three-level operation which enables us to gain concentration, extract and detect," said laboratory technical specialist Sudhi Payyappat, who developed the testing method in March.
"It's a new, underdeveloped virus with challenges.
"The testing method has to be sensitive because in a small number of cases in a large sewage catchment it may not be detected due to dilution.''
Wastewater testing recently helped lead to the discovery of a COVID case, that was ultimately linked back to the Liverpool hospital cluster.
Fragments of coronavirus were found in the West Camden sewage treatment plant on October 6 and a local case was then linked to Liverpool.
NSW has recorded no new locally acquired cases of coronavirus for the third day in a row.
MELBOURNE CUP TO GO AHEAD WITHOUT CROWDS
The famed Melbourne Cup carnival will be held without crowds after the Victoria Racing Club conceded on Sunday it "will not be possible to welcome spectators" because of COVID-19 restrictions.
VRC chairman Amanda Elliott said the VRC had worked closely with authorities over the last few months and had tendered a comprehensive submission to the Victorian Government detailing how the VRC could safely host small crowds within government and public health guidelines.
The club said it was "now clear that none of this is possible".
"While we are very disappointed not to be able to welcome our members and racegoers to Cup Week, we understand the government's commitment to keeping our community safe. We also recognise the need for certainty and clarity for our patrons, being only six days out from Derby Day," Mrs Elliott said.
"We are still in discussions regarding the potential return to the track for a small number of owners, as is currently permitted in regional Victoria."
Mrs Elliott said the VRC would innovate to engage with absent audiences.
"What is certain is the Melbourne Cup carnival will go ahead with viewing audiences watching from across Australia and around the world," she said.
"The spirit of Cup Week, the high quality racing and the 160th running of the People's Cup will be enjoyed by millions.
"This year's Cup Week experience will be one to remember. We have worked very closely with our broadcast partner Network 10, to make Melbourne Cup week an unmissable event that you will celebrate from home."
"We've introduced a number of off-course initiatives including delicious picnic hampers, our Myer Fashions on your Front Lawn competition, the Lexus Melbourne Cup the Race of Dreams, digital Race book, tipping, sweepstakes competitions, trivia games as well as all the background stories to the horses, trainers and jockeys who will compete on the famous Flemington track.
"All of this is available on our new state-of-the-art interactive Cup Week website, accessible no matter where you are.
"We will play our part in supporting Victoria's emergence from this pandemic as Melbourne moves closer to a normal environment over summer."
The carnival starts on Saturday with four Group 1s - the Victoria Derby, Cantala Stakes, Empire Rose Stakes and the Coolmore Stud Stakes.
The Melbourne Racing Club and Moonee Valley Racing Club stages their feature Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate carnivals without crowds because of the pandemic.
A YEAR TO MAKE VACCINE
Australia would need up to a year to make a COVID-19 vaccine if the final successful and safe option is a non-protein based version.
Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews said she expected Australian biotech company CSL would require nine to 12 months to develop the capability to make a vaccine based on mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid.
Traditional vaccines introduce proteins to the body to prompt the immune system but an mRNA vaccine - such as the one being developed by US company Moderna - uses molecules in building a defence to a disease.
It requires different technology to be manufactured.
"We need to be really conscious that with a vaccine, there are a lot of variables in there … so we are trying to prepare across a wide range," Ms Andrews told the ABC.
Originally published as Poo test to find early geographical COVID outbreaks