Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed expectations Wednesday, saying it will take “more weeks” before any release is possible and warning that doing it too soon could lead to dangerous new epidemics.
But it is clear that at some point a new balance will have to be struck between protecting the livelihoods of Canadians and protecting their lives. On Wednesday, Denmark reopened schools across the country for children 11 and under, for example.
We have many questions about coronaviruses. Are the answers in our sewers?
When that moment comes, how will we know it was the right decision and how could we be alerted quickly if it turned out to be the wrong decision?
A regular sewage test for the virus could quickly tell us if there were danger signs, says an expert.
No country started testing wastewater for the new coronavirus more than a few months ago, and science has so far been unable to tell what is the infection rate in a community. given on the basis of traces of the virus in wastewater.
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However, it can show if virus levels are increasing compared to previous tests.
“One of the most important and powerful observations in this area is the ability to seek change,” said Bernadette Conant of the Canadian Water Network, a not-for-profit organization. “It’s the fact that there’s a change that forces you to get up and say,” Hm, I wonder why this is happening? “”
“My own opinion on handling this is, is there a problem that we missed the boat?” My answer is no, because I think the greatest power for this is really long term. ”
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(A recent Harvard study warned that we may see the new coronavirus come and go until 2022.)
What would be the starting point? Curiously, Statistics Canada maintains a sort of wastewater library, with samples from five provinces, to which scientists could refer.
The agency started collecting wastewater samples in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax in early 2018 to test them for recreational drugs and has been collecting more since, wrote Audra Nagasawa of Statistics Canada in an email .
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On the second Monday of each month, residents of the five cities collect wastewater samples from sewage treatment plants over a period of seven consecutive days to ensure consistency. All samples are kept in a freezer in a Health Canada laboratory.
“There is no firm plan” to test samples for the new coronavirus, writes Nagasawa, but it is a possibility.
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“Taking advantage of the Canadian Wastewater Survey is an option that can be considered given the existing infrastructure for sampling, but [we] we need to coordinate with scientists and specialized laboratories to do this work to ensure that our results are comparable in Canada and internationally, “wrote Nagasawa.
“To our knowledge, there are already a number of initiatives in place … but nothing is yet coordinated at the national level.”
On the one hand, it is not clear how much virus ends up being eliminated in a person’s waste if they are infected, although it is evident that some do.
“It seems like this could be an interesting way to track levels over time (are they going up or down)? Nagasawa wrote.
Communities would not have to wait long for results.
“From our understanding, the turnaround time could be relatively short. Our feeling is that samples could be collected and analyzed in a week or two, which could provide short-term warnings and / or emerging issues. “
“For the moment, the Public Health Agency of Canada is not aware of any Canadian study collecting wastewater samples for the detection and identification of COVID-19,” wrote spokesperson Marie. -Pier Burelle in an email.
Federal grants fund 99 coronavirus research projects across Canada, but none involve wastewater testing.
The office of federal Minister of Health Patty Hadju did not respond to questions about the federal wastewater monitoring plan or why none of the funded research was related to it.
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In the United States, the Netherlands and Australia, scientists are all turning to their country’s sewers to learn more about the spread of the new coronavirus. The Dutch study, perhaps the most successful so far, found the new coronavirus in sewage more or less in a loop with positive tests on people on the surface. (The new coronavirus was detected in the wastewater from Schiphol Airport only four days after the first known Dutch case was reported.)
Canada has studied wastewater in the past.
In the early 2000s, a wastewater study of 14 Canadian communities found traces of a variety of pharmaceuticals, including ibuprofen and two chemotherapy drugs. The results differed in some respects from similar studies in Europe.
Last year, Statistics Canada looked for traces of recreational drugs in the wastewater of Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Wastewater appeared to show higher rates of cannabis use in Halifax and Montreal and more methamphetamine in Edmonton and Vancouver.
The study was part of a larger international project, which found that cocaine was the predominant drug in Europe and South America, while cities in Australia and North America had more methamphetamines.
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