Spanish Government creates wastewater control network as an early warning epidemiological indicator of the propagation of COVID-19

The Spanish Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge (MITECO), the Ministry of Health and the Autonomous Communities have set up a technical team to coordinate actions and select the sampling areas and frequency of sample taking, in accordance with the evolution of the pandemic. It is envisaged that over 3,000 analyses will be carried out of urban wastewater samples from wastewater treatment plants throughout the country.

The MITECO is working in cooperation with the Ministry of Health on the implementation of a network to provide an early warning of a fresh outbreak of COVID-19 through wastewater analysis. This will be carried out with the support of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), which belongs to the Ministry of Science and Innovation, and the Autonomous Communities. The MITECO has initially allocated a budget of two million euro to the initiative, which will be reviewed in accordance with the evolution of the pandemic.

In order to carry out the initiative, a technical team has been set up by the MITECO, the Ministry of Health and the Autonomous Communities. This team will coordinate all actions and select the sampling areas and frequency of sample taking, in accordance with the evolution of the pandemic. The team is currently finalising the network of measurement points in a number of cities chosen by the regional authorities. The initiative will also create a working network of technical experts from public authorities and scientists for the purpose of early detection of possible fresh outbreaks of COVID-19.

Studies in this area conclude that the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in wastewater could represent a tool for early detection of the propagation of the disease, meaning that it could be a particularly useful early-warning epidemiological indicator for future incidences of the disease. Many Spanish studies have now demonstrated this relationship and the European Commission is currently working to create a European network to share information and samples.

Information-sharing platform

The Ministry of Health, through the Directorate General for Public Health, and the MITECO, through the Directorate General for Water, are carrying out the following activities:

  • The creation of an information-sharing platform for all actors involved in the management of wastewater and new outbreaks of COVID-19.
  • The establishment of a network of contacts between water and health laboratories and administrators to channel and share the information and knowledge generated.
  • 3,000 analyses of samples to monitor SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in urban wastewater from a number of wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) throughout Spain.
  • Sampling in a selection of inland watercourses used for bathing.

Technical specialists from the two Ministries, the CSIC, the Centre of Studies and Experimentation in Public Works (CEDEX) and several universities will work on these activities in the coming months and provide support to health authorities, those responsible for water management in the Autonomous Communities, and the utilities responsible for water supply and sanitation.