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SARS-CoV-2 and the resulting COVID-19 pandemic represents one of the greatest recent threats to human health, wellbeing and economic growth. Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) of human viruses can be a useful tool for population-scale monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence and epidemiology to help prevent further spread of the disease, particularly within urban centres. Here, we present a longitudinal analysis (March–July 2020) of SARS-CoV-2 RNA prevalence in sewage across six major urban centres in the UK (total population equivalent 3 million) by q(RT-)PCR and viral genome sequencing. Our results demonstrate that levels of SARS-CoV-2 RNA generally correlated with the abundance of clinical cases recorded within the community in large urban centres, with a marked decline in SARS-CoV-2 RNA abundance following the implementation of lockdown measures. The strength of this association was weaker in areas with lower confirmed COVID-19 case numbers. Further, sequence analysis of SARS-CoV-2 from wastewater suggested that multiple genetically distinct clusters were co-circulating in the local populations covered by our sample sites, and that the genetic variants observed in wastewater reflected similar SNPs observed in contemporaneous samples from cases tested in clinical diagnostic laboratories. We demonstrate how WBE can be used for both community-level detection and tracking of SARS-CoV-2 and other virus’ prevalence, and can inform public health policy decisions. Although, greater understanding of the factors that affect SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentration in wastewater are needed for the full integration of WBE data into outbreak surveillance. In conclusion, our results lend support to the use of routine WBE for monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 and other human pathogenic viruses circulating in the population and assessment of the effectiveness of disease control measures.


  • Coronavirus outbreak, Infection control, Municipal wastewater, Public health, Sewage surveillance
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117214
Number of pages1
JournalWater Research
Early online date8 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2021

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