The Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works. The Province said the fact that fragments of the new Delta variant was detected serves to illustrate the efficiency of the wastewater surveillance program in the Western Cape. File Picture.
The Potsdam Wastewater Treatment Works. The Province said the fact that fragments of the new Delta variant was detected serves to illustrate the efficiency of the wastewater surveillance program in the Western Cape. File Picture.

Dr Cloete’s assurance to Western Cape: Covid-19 does not contaminate water

By Mwangi Githahu Time of article published Jul 9, 2021

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Cape Town - Residents of the province have been assured that traces of the Covid-19 Delta variant found in wastewater in parts of the Western Cape’s water treatment plants pose no risk to agricultural produce or humans.

Provincial head of health Dr Keith Cloete made a point of stressing this point during Premier Alan Winde’s regular digital news conference, following a question asked, based on a statement by farmers organisation TLU SA in which farmers said they were concerned about reports of the virus in wastewater.

TLU SA president Henry Geldenhuys said on Wednesday that the organisation feared for agricultural produce after hearing a report that the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) had said traces of the new Covid-19 Delta variant were detected in samples taken from some Western Cape municipalities’ wastewater.

Geldenhuys said that while they were aware that sewerage plants can successfully treat wastewater against the coronavirus, South Africa’s water sources were already full of sewerage and other pollutants.

“Our question is thus how long the virus can survive in untreated or poorly treated water and what the consequences will be?”

Yesterday Dr Cloete said: “When somebody has Covid-19, the virus is in their body. There is no evidence to suggest that the virus survives in water when a person takes a bath, a shower or washes their hands.

“The virus is in the air, spread by droplets. It can potentially be on surfaces. I cannot stress enough that the virus does not contaminate water and there is no risk from the virus in the water.”

Cloete’s statement was followed by a statement issued by the provincial department of environmental affairs which said the traces mentioned by SAMRC were found as part of an ongoing wastewater-based epidemiology surveillance program conducted exclusively in the province..

“It is critical to note that what has been detected are traces or fragments of the virus, which are not infectious in the wastewater as they are no longer a living virus,” said the statement.

Meanwhile, the Western Cape is now firmly in a third wave with an average of 1 969 new cases of Covid-19 a day and Premier Winde has urged heightened vigilance, as the risk of getting infected is increasing.

“Our health platform shows us that in the Western Cape, the week on week increases in current admissions has been above 20% over a week, admissions to hospitals are increasing, with an average of 170 new admissions a day and deaths have also increased now to approximately 35 deaths each day.”

Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said that currently, less than 50% of all residents over 60, including those who have not registered, have been vaccinated.

“This means that many people over 60 still need their life-saving vaccine. It is for this reason that we have decided to prioritise over 60s by allowing all to register and get vaccinated at the same time, at any of our facilities.”

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