Northern Ireland’s waste water being tested to track Covid-19 cases

A man wearing a face mask walks past an entrance to Belfast City Hospital, Northern Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA)
A man wearing a face mask walks past an entrance to Belfast City Hospital, Northern Ireland (Brian Lawless/PA) (PA Archive)
18:16pm, Wed 26 May 2021
CBAD8A00-D2B9-4E0E-ADDF-D0366C357A34 Created with sketchtool. E9A4AA46-7DC3-48B8-9CE2-D75274FB8967 Created with sketchtool. 65CCAE04-4748-4D0F-8696-A91D8EB3E7DC Created with sketchtool.

Northern Ireland’s waste water is being tested to track cases of Covid-19.

Sewage is being tested for the presence of the virus in a move which is hoped to track it more effectively than relying on all who contracted the virus to come forward for testing.

An estimated 38% of the region’s waste water is being tested at 13 different sites to indicate where the virus is present, including variants.

That is planned to extend to 70% coverage with testing at 40 different sites.


The region’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Lourda Geoghegan said it is a new technology both in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

“We are using the waste water surveillance to help and guide where we might like to do further testing of human in particular populations, it’s a new technology and serving us very well,” she said.

“We rely on knowing about cases by people who have developed symptoms to come forward and get tested or who participate in a regular asymptomatic testing programme.

“The benefit with the waste water surveillance is that regular testing of the water is telling us for a geographical area if there is Covid in the area or not, and secondly it can tell us if there is a variant of concern in a particular area.

“The findings can be honed down to a fairly small geographical area to help us then inform, plan and work out what further testing of humans we would do.

“It is a new programme, and it is a new programme across many parts of the UK and therefore the way we use it and the benefit of it is evolving and we’re learning all the time.”

According to the latest data, 15 cases of the Indian variant have been confirmed in Northern Ireland, nine cases of the South African variant and no cases of the Brazilian variant.

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