One year ago, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation asking EU Member States to put in place wastewater monitoring to track COVID-19 and its variants. All EU Member States have taken rapid action and today around 1 370 wastewater treatment plants are under regular surveillance across the EU. The swift implementation of these recommendations has contributed to the early detection of the virus and its variants across the EU, ensured that the data has been made available to all Member States, promoting coordinated and informed decision-making in responding to the pandemic.
Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginius Sinkevičius said:
“The use of wastewater surveillance provides a cost-effective, rapid and reliable source of information on the spread of the COVID-19 virus and its variants in the population. It is important that we fully use all available means to detect the virus and its variants to provide appropriate and timely responses. The swift reaction of all EU countries to the Recommendation shows focused coordination and collaboration, and I am very satisfied that we continue to work closely with Member States, health authorities, wastewater operators and many other stakeholders in our response to the pandemic.”
Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides said:
“The European Union has overcome many challenges over the course of two years in its fight against COVID-19. During this time, we have intensified our work with Member States to coordinate our response to the emergence of new variants and to stand better prepared in the face of future cross-border health threats. Wastewater monitoring can play an important part in our response, complementing overall public health surveillance. I am looking forward to continue improving the early detection of new variants as part of the work of the HERA – the European Health Preparedness and Response Authority - Incubator.”
Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said:
“People from various disciplines, nationalities and sectors came together to transform this European research into tangible results for public health. Now, we need to advance on the related infrastructure for wastewater screening in order to detect new outbreaks as early as possible, screen for new SARS-CoV-2-variants and monitor the spread of other infectious agents and pollutants of emerging concerning, such as poliovirus or influenza virus. I am pleased to see the central role the Joint Research Centre played in supporting the implementation of the recommendation.”
The Commission in its Recommendation asked Member States to collect and share wastewater data on the presence of the virus and its variants, to enable early detection and support the management of the virus. It also promoted the use of common methods for sampling, testing and data analysis, supported by a European exchange platform to ensure that collected data is reliable, comparable and promptly shared with public health authorities. To support this Recommendation, the Commission also awarded EUR 20 million in direct action grants to Member States in December 2021 under the HERA incubator. This financial support, under the Emergency Support Instrument, has provided rapid and flexible assistance for surveillance related activities.
In June 2020, the Commission also established an EU alliance and community of practice for wastewater surveillance of COVID-19. To date, in a series of events 1 200 representatives of EU national health services, wastewater operators, private stakeholders, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organisation have been brought together to share experiences. Neighbouring countries to the EU are also being supported in setting up monitoring or expanding it to variants analysis. The Commission is developing the Digital European Exchange Platform information system in parallel to connect national, regional and local wastewater surveillance programmes.
In September 2021, the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) Communication identified wastewater-based surveillance as an activity to be strengthened to build on the EU capacities to detect future threats and trends arising from emerging pathogens and pollutants of emerging concern for public health. The Recommendation on monitoring COVID-19 and its variants in wastewaters in the EU was part of a set of COVID-19 measures adopted by the Commission on 17 March 2021, as announced in the European preparedness plan entitled the ‘HERA Incubator’.
The Commission is currently reviewing the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, and will put forward a legislative proposal in 2022. Different options are being considered, including establishing permanent surveillance system of health related parameters in wastewater, including Covid-19 and its variants.