Background to the Waste Water Testing

In December 2019, an outbreak of a coronavirus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (sars-cov-2), was reported in wuhan, hubei province. In weeks that followed, the spread of the virus in china and in other countries was reported. On january 30, 2020, the world health organization (who) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (pheic). On the 12 february 2020, who named the disease caused by the novel coronavirus as coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) (li, 2020).

On the 5 march 2020, the national institute for communicable disease (nicd) reported that a suspected case of covid-19 had tested positive (nicd, 2020). At the time of submitting this proposal a cumulative total of >650 000 confirmed covid-19 cases in south africa have been recorded. More than 15 000 deaths in south africa have been reported at the time of writing this proposal.

On 20 july 2020, it was reported that south africa ranked 5th globally for covid-19 infections, following the united states of america, brazil, india and russia (enca,2020). At the time of writing this proposal, the gauteng province was regarded as the epicentre of covid-19 on the africa continent.

Chinese Scientists became the first to identify coronaviruses in human waste after the outbreak of the SARS and MERS epidemics. The presence of virus has been documented in return flows out of hospitals treating novel coronavirus (SARS) patients (Wang et al., 2005), thereby opening a viable method of tracking COVID-19 in the general population through sewage. Limited studies have shown that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be infectious in faeces under specific circumstances (Wang et al., 2005). Some studies have shown the correlation between SARS-CoV-2 and infection of the gastrointestinal tract (Wang et al., 2020; Xiao et al., 2020). The presence of SARS-CoV-2 in faecal waste has been shown to be durable over time (Wu et al., 2020).

From this theoretical and academic foundation, the Dutch water research institute known as KWR, was able to demonstrate the presence of COVID-19 in a defined human population by means of sewage surveillance before patients were reporting to medical facilities for diagnosis and testing. Recognizing the importance of this new methodology for the business community trying to manage risk, the South African Business Water Chamber reached an agreement with KWR, whereby the Chamber would fast track the adoption of the Dutch methodology into South Africa. A letter of support from KWR to the SA Water Chamber is provided in Annexure A

On the 14th April 2020, a subsidiary of the Impuma Group of Companies approached the DWS and expressed an interest of conducting a pilot study in a form of a proof of concept using the Dutch methodology into the South African environment. The study was wholly funded by Impuma Group of Companies a level 1 BBBEE company.

The study was supported by the DWS, with a letter of support was sent to the South Africa Water Chamber, Annexure B. Preliminary results from the proof of concept study are provide in Annexure C.

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