​A wastewater treatment plant in the Eastern Cape. Picture: SIKHO NTSHOBANE​
​A wastewater treatment plant in the Eastern Cape. Picture: SIKHO NTSHOBANE​

The SA Medical Research Council’s (SAMRC) wastewater monitors have detected rapidly rising concentrations of Covid-19 fragments in samples collected in rural areas.

Counts of the non-infectious fragments are surging in all the rural wastewater treatment facilities monitored by the wastewater surveillance team of the SAMRC.

“This holds true for rural sites around the country‚ including in Limpopo‚ the Eastern Cape and Western Cape‚” said Dr Renée Street‚ a member of the team. 

“There has definitely been a lag in rural areas‚ and it is only over the past week or so that we have been observing rapid increases in SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in rural wastewater facilities‚” said Prof Angela Mathee. 

“The evidence in wastewater of an increase in the number of people in rural areas with symptomatic or asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 may be associated with a growing number of children and adults returning to rural areas following the closure of urban schools and universities‚ as well as with people travelling to rural areas for their summer holidays.”

The team said it does not yet have results from its wastewater analyses to paint a complete picture of the dominant variants in rural areas.

“We do know the Delta variant remained dominant in some rural towns as of last week. However‚ given the extremely rapid pace at which the Omicron variant has gained dominance in urban areas‚ this could change in rural areas over a very short time‚” said Dr Rabia Johnson‚ deputy director of the SAMRC’s biomedical research and innovation platform.

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