Sewage Tests Show Virus Cases Rise in South Africa

South African scientists monitoring wastewater in the Western Cape province detected spikes of the coronavirus in the last three weeks as concerns grow among the government that a lack of compliance with health guidelines may trigger a second wave.

The project, spearheaded by an expert team within the South African Medical Research Council, monitored 24 wastewater sites in Cape Town and began at the peak of the outbreak in the city in July. The most comprehensive wastewater study to date, the six-week project now continues on 10 sites and has been expanded to three other provinces, including Gauteng, the country’s commercial hub.

“We are definitely seeing an increase in the numbers,” Rabia Johnson, deputy director at the Biomedical Research and Innovation Platform, a unit of the council, said in an interview. “Our data indicates that the virus is still present,” she said.

South Africa relaxed most movement restrictions on Oct. 1 following a strict lockdown imposed in March. As bars and restaurants across the country have reopened and the summer season has started, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize warned last month it’s recording a worrying increase in infections, especially in the Western Cape province.

Wastewater surveillance is one of a handful of strategies around the world being developed to pinpoint emerging hotspots and flare-ups before cases spiral out of control, and serve as an early warning of the re-emergence of Covid-19 in cities.

The South African Medical Research Council will make the data available to the public and to health authorities through a dashboard on its website showing weekly trends from different provinces, according to Johnson. The dashboard will be launched this month, she said.

South Africa had 732,414 confirmed cases as of Nov. 6 and 19,677 deaths, the most in Africa.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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