Coronavirus early warning system by analysing wastewater?

Hamburg among 20 German pilot project sites - infection incidence to be mapped faster
10 February 2022

Analyses of wastewater will allow scientists to detect coronavirus earlier from February as part of a pilot project by the German government in 20 sites nationwide. Funded by the EU, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry for the Environment, Hamburg Wasser and the Institute for Hygiene and Environment are carrying out the project in Hamburg through 2023. The pilot project should lead to a standard approach for nationwide, systematic monitoring.

Wastewater monitoring to map infection incidence

People who contract coronavirus excrete viruses several days before they feel ill and are tested. The viruses end up in wastewater. The case numbers and the spread of new variants could be detected much earlier by monitoring the water rather than simply reporting positive tests. The method could prove an early warning system for the next wave of coronavirus.

Michael Pollmann, State Councillor for the Environment, commented: "This forward-looking project can help to map the incidence of infections faster including undetected infections, and thus to contain or prevent new waves." An "alliance of competencies" has been formed for the model project.  Hamburg Wasser will take samples of the wastewater while the Institute for Hygiene and the Environment will be responsible for the analyses using a digital PCR test. During the pilot phase, initially two samples per week will be taken from the inlets of the Köhlbrandhöft wastewater treatment plant in the Port of Hamburg.