Analysis of wastewater to monitor the prevalence of different Covid-19 The variants now cover two-thirds of the English population, the government said.
The program tests wastewater samples for traces of the virus, and positive samples are sequenced across the genome to determine if it is a variant of concern, such as the Indian strain.
The Department of Health and Welfare (DHSC) said the program had helped identify the need for surge testing in areas such as Bristol and Luton.
The program then continues to monitor the wastewater after the surge tests are completed, to ensure that the variant is no longer circulating in the area.
The Environmental Monitoring for Health Protection (EMHP) program is led by the Joint Biosecurity Center (JBC) and is part of the new UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The DHSC hopes the analysis of post-pandemic wastewater will help monitor other viruses such as influenza, helping the NHS predict which areas are likely to be hit hardest by outbreaks.
A dedicated wastewater analysis laboratory opened in Exeter last month and now receives samples collected by Environment Agency scientists from 500 sites across England.
It is estimated that the program now covers two-thirds of the English population.
Surveillance in a specific watershed can even identify localized outbreaks, without relying on residents to show up for swab tests, the DHSC said.
Dr Jenny Harries, Managing Director of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “The sequencing of wastewater samples provides an additional detection system for the variants of concern, which allows us to respond more effectively to epidemics and to improve protect citizens. ”
The program manager at the Joint Biosecurity Center, Dr Andrew Engeli, said: “As infections decrease and we move away from national restrictions, it is important to analyze wastewater to quickly detect variants to help them. local authorities and the NHS Test and Trace to act quickly to prevent variants from occurring. spread in communities.
Wastewater analyzes can also be used in specific institutions, such as food manufacturing sites or prisons.
The DHSC said: “It is not possible to trace the Covid-19 samples to specific individuals and no personal information is collected. “
Christina Gray, Director of Communities and Public Health at Bristol City Council, said: “This technology has helped us be confident that the image we are seeing through the test results accurately reflects the spread of infection and that there was no pool of undetected infection that we weren’t aware of. “
She added, “When we get to a stage where we are finishing routine testing, this method could potentially provide an effective way to identify the growing infection and help us take prompt public health action.”