Media release
30 September 2020

Viral fragments of coronavirus have been detected in wastewater taken from the sewer network at Anglesea.

While the preliminary result may not mean there are currently active cases of COVID-19 in the Anglesea community, the Department of Health and Human Services has increased testing in the area with local health services and taken further wastewater samples.

Residents of Anglesea and recent visitors who have even the mildest of symptoms are urged to get tested and isolate as they await their result. 

A pop-up testing site has been established at Anglesea Memorial Hall, 1B McMillan Street. It will be open from 11am to 6pm on Wednesday 30 September and from 10am to 6pm every day until Sunday.

The department is analysing wastewater for fragments of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, at sites across Victoria as part of the national collaboration for sewage surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 (ColoSSoS).

The positive trace of coronavirus was detected in a preliminary test result and then confirmed on Tuesday 29 September in a sample collected from the entry to wastewater treatment plant on Tuesday 22 September. 

The test result may be a result of someone with coronavirus infection who hasn’t been detected through testing. It could also be because someone who has previously been infected is continuing to “shed” the virus.

It can take several weeks for someone to stop shedding the virus. The fragments themselves are not infectious.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said that while positive samples have been expected at sewage testing sites because of the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in Victoria, the Anglesea result is of interest because there have been no known cases in the local community in recent weeks.

While the result may not signify any current cases and could represent virus shed from people who had visited the town, it has provided an opportunity to increase testing and minimise potential transmission.

In early September, testing was stepped up in the Apollo Bay area after virus fragments were detected in wastewater. With more than three weeks having passed since detection, it is unlikely that there is an active undiagnosed case in the area.

“Until we have a highly effective and available vaccine, early detection and prevention are the keys to combating coronavirus,” Prof Sutton said.

“Wastewater testing provides an additional and complementary tool to the existing public health response and can provide early warning that COVID-19 is in a community before traditional testing methods.

“Finding cases early can help our disease detectives track the spread of the virus and implement strategies to minimise transmission preventing hotspots or clusters before they have time to develop.

“Anyone feeling unwell with even the mildest of symptoms should get tested as soon as possible and isolate as they wait for their result.”

There is no impact on the local water supply, which is safe to drink. There is no evidence that coronavirus (COVID-19) can be spread via recycled water nor via treated wastewater released to waterways.

Sampling sites have been established across Victoria’s metropolitan and regional sewage network as part of the ColoSSoS project. Coordinated by Water Research Australia, the project brings together health departments, water utilities, laboratories and researchers from Australia and New Zealand to share advances in this rapidly evolving field. 

The Netherlands, Canada, Turkey and other countries have incorporated wastewater testing as part of their coronavirus surveillance.

Wastewater samples are taken from more than 30 sites across Victoria including Anglesea, which is one of 11 Barwon Water locations in Surf Coast, Colac-Otway and Greater Geelong.

Samples are also taken from regional wastewater treatment plants at Ararat, Ballarat, Benalla, Bendigo, Mildura, Moe, Shepparton, Swan Hill, Traralgon, Wangaratta, Warragul, Wodonga and Wonthaggi. Sampling will commence at Castlemaine from next week.

Media enquiries:

Department of Health & Human Services Media Unit (03) 9096 8860 or press@dhhs.vic.gov.au