Scientists have collected wastewater samples from Covid-19 cluster hotspots in a bid to find traces of the virus.
The Institute of Environmental Science and Research has set up the project to better understand the role environmental monitoring can have in checking for coronavirus over time.
ESR revealed today that several sewage samples have been taken from known clusters around the country. They have been frozen while testing protocols are put together.
When ready, scientists would look for genes associated with Covid-19.
ESR chief scientist, Dr Brett Cowan, said that if traces of the virus is detected, the value will be in monitoring the distribution and prevalence of it over the next few weeks, months and years ahead.
"By detecting and monitoring coronavirus in wastewater, we could potentially see how effective eradication is, gauge changes in different regions, as well as better understand the patterns of community transmission."
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He acknowledged that unlike other viruses scientists have detected in wastewater, this one was unlikely to be spread by contaminated faeces as it was a respiratory illness.
It is likely any traces of the virus would not last long in wastewater and therefore there was "very little" risk of catching it from wastewater.
"But the research is important," Cowan said.
"We're collaborating with research organisations here and internationally and contributing to the global effort to learn more about coronavirus and ultimately find a vaccination."
The Ministry of Health has said that they were now dealing with 12 significant Covid-19 clusters around the country.
They include guests at a wedding in Bluff, an event in Matamata, one associated with Marist College in Auckland and the latest cluster involving the Rosewood Rest Home in Christchurch.
As of today, there have been 32 new confirmed Covid-19 cases and 22 new probable cases; taking the total of cases to 1160.
A total of 241 people have recovered from the virus and there remains one Covid-19 death in New Zealand.
• Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website