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Australia How did coronavirus end up in a Whitsundays sewage treatment plant when nobody is sick?

00:01  02 october  2020
00:01  02 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Traces of coronavirus are detected in the Whitsundays ' sewerage system, prompting fever clinics to be set up at Airlie Beach as zero new cases are recorded in the state A coronavirus testing clinic has been set up at Airlie beach in the Whitsundays after traces of COVID-19 were found in sewage .

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a group of people standing in front of a sign: Staff at the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service fever clinic at Maryborough. (Supplied: Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service) © Provided by ABC News Staff at the Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service fever clinic at Maryborough. (Supplied: Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service)

A walk-in COVID-19 testing clinic has reopened at Airlie Beach this morning after scientists found more traces of the deadly coronavirus in sewage samples.

With no cases of community transmission recorded since September 10, Queenslanders are being told there is nothing to worry about.

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But how could the virus be found "living" in a waste treatment plant in the Whitsundays when there are no known human cases in the region?

It is a mystery to researchers, who point out the Cannonvale treatment plant has been throwing up COVID-19 surprises since mid-August.

There was a previous detection of virus fragments on August 20, but results were clear in samples on August 31 and again on September 7 and 14.

So is this a matter of false negatives and false positives or a genuine positive test result for this latest tracing?

How helpful is sewage testing?

University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay said because sewage testing was still an emerging technology it needed to be treated with caution.

"It is important to take these things with a grain of salt initially until we make sure these methods are working," Dr Mackay said.

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He admitted it was baffling when it came to trying to work out where the latest fragments had come from.

"It may mean a lot of things — it may mean a traveller passed through the area who was infected," he said.

"But it could also mean there was a cruise ship that came and pumped its waste into a pump at shore facility in that particular region.

"If that was also included in the sample, anyone infected on that boat may have shown up as a signal.

"So we do need to know a bit more information about any positive when it happens before we can assume it means community transmission."

Dr Mackay said it was understandable the community was worried about this latest detection.

"Let's be very clear, this does not mean there is virus in the community," he said.

But it could also be a sign coronavirus is present in the Airlie Beach community "so more testing is the way to know that".

The Mackay Hospital and Health Service (MHHS) said there was no need for concern and the ramped up testing clinic was simply a precaution.

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If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you might have COVID-19, follow the steps below to care for yourself and to help protect other people in your home and community. As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people and pets in your home.

Typical coronavirus patients develop a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath, but these symptoms may appear at different times — or not at all. A study of more than 550 hospitals across China also found that hospitalized patients developed pneumonia on the third day of their illness.

"These surveillance tests are extremely sensitive and can pick up tiny pieces of the genetic material of the virus," MHHS said in a statement.

"The result does not necessarily mean there are active cases in the Airlie Beach/Cannonvale region.

"There are no known outbreaks or cases in the area, however we cannot rule out the possibility that infectious persons were or are still in the area, who have not been tested.

"People who have recovered from COVID-19 can have live or dead virus in their stool for weeks after recovery."

Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said sewage testing was helping enormously in the detection of COVID-19.

"But we still can't be totally confident that we might not have a case somewhere in the state we are not aware of," she said.

Sewage testing is part of a statewide pilot wastewater surveillance program run by University of Queensland researchers and the CSIRO, as part of the overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic as patients may shed viral fragments in their faeces.

Researchers said fragments could also come from used tissues or wash off of hands and bodies via basins, sinks and showers.

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Get tested just in case

Dr Young was urging anyone in the tropical holiday strip to get tested if they have any COVID-19 symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, or loss of smell or taste is urged to be tested.

Dr Young said they should then stay home and isolate themselves from other people until they get their result.

Testing is free for everyone including foreign nationals.

Mass testing of locals in this area was the only way authorities could determine the region was actually COVID-free, despite the sewage results.

Other testing options in the Whitsundays are:

  • Whitsunday Respiratory Clinic, afternoons Monday to Friday, call 4804 5664 to book
  • BHP/Vanguard Health Bowen Testing Clinic, 10:00am–5:15pm daily, call 1800 980 574 to book
  • Proserpine, Bowen and Collinsville Hospitals
  • Call your GP to ask about testing opportunities

More freedom to entertain

Long delays are expected to continue at the border over the long weekend now that Queensland has relaxed border controls for northern New South Wales residents.

An easing of restrictions since yesterday means the number of people able to party outside has also increased.

Larger groups can also enjoy outdoor dining with the restriction now one person per two square metres rather than one per four square metres.

Dr Young said it was also time to start planning festive season events such as Christmas carols and fetes, as up to 1,000 people can now attend outdoor events with a COVID-safe plan.

Stadiums can now run at 75 per cent capacity, up from than 50 per cent.

This means the promised crowd of 30,000 for the AFL grand final at the Gabba will be possible.

At home, up to 30 people can now gather.

Dr Young said she was confident the state's success at contract tracing and health protocols would mean Queensland would not have to go back into lockdown.

"We are going to get more cases that is inevitable," she said.

"But we can very rapidly respond now, and not have to close everything down as we had to do in March."

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usr: 2
This is interesting!