Media release
05 September 2020

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

While the preliminary result may not mean there are currently active cases of COVID-19 in the Apollo Bay community, the Department of Health and Human Services has stepped up testing in the area with local health services.

People from Apollo Bay and nearby communities who have even the mildest of symptoms are urged to get tested and isolate as they await their result. The Great Ocean Road Health–Otway Health testing clinic on McLachlan St, Apollo Bay, is open from 9am to 4pm seven days a week.

The department is analysing sewage for fragments of coronavirus at sites across Victoria as part of national research program. 

The positive trace of coronavirus was detected in a preliminary test result on Friday 4 September in a sample collected from Apollo Bay wastewater treatment plant on Tuesday 1 September.

The test result may be a result of someone with COVID-19 who hasn’t been detected through testing. It could also be because someone who has previously had COVID-19 is continuing to “shed” the virus. It can take several weeks for someone to stop shedding the virus and further analysis is required to assess the significance of the preliminary result. 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 Apollo Bay result is of interest because there have been no known cases in the Apollo Bay community in recent weeks.  

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

“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 coronavirus 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.”

Wastewater is treated to kill a wide variety of micro-organisms, including viruses, before it is returned to the environment. There is no impact on the local water supply which is safe to drink 
Sampling sites have been established across Victoria’s metropolitan and regional sewage network as part of the ColoSSoS (Collaboration on Sewage Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2) research 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.

There are 25 sampling sites across Victoria including the large Melbourne Eastern and Western Treatment plants, 11 other sites in the metropolitan Sewerage System  extending to the Mornington Peninsula and regional sewage treatment plants at Apollo Bay, Ararat, Ballarat, Bendigo, Colac, Geelong, Moe, Mt Martha, Shepparton, Sunbury, Traralgon, Warragul and Wonthaggi.

Media enquiries:

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