We have been in a good situation in Switzerland in that we have regular engagement with cantonal laboratories and federal offices. As the authorship on our paper shows, the work is an example of the effectiveness of strong networks within the ETH Domain that allow rapid and, from at least my perspective, easy collaboration. These networks further facilitated knowledge exchange of our findings directly to the authorities, particularly during the emergence of Alpha, Delta, and Omicron, when wastewater provided early insights into the emergence and rise of these variants in Switzerland. The degree to which this influenced policy, I cannot say, but certainly, the dissemination of our findings was driven by regular interest and engagement across all levels.
Are you personally concerned that new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will soon emerge that may cause more severe courses of the disease or be even more contagious than the previous ones?
It is clear that new variants will continue to emerge. Right now, there is interest in BA.2.75, for example. The most recent emerging variants are associated with increased transmissibility. Luckily, we have not seen dramatic increases in severity of disease, but we cannot rule out this possibility in the future. That said, we are much more prepared to deal with SARS-CoV-2 infections than we were at the start of the pandemic. For example, we have learned a lot about how the virus transmits and how to treat infections in hospitals. We also now have effective vaccines. Nevertheless, I believe we need to continue robust surveillance globally to identify new variants and understand their characteristics as early as possible. This is important so that – when we need to – we can implement effective interventions with minimal disruption to our lives. Unfortunately, clinical surveillance systems appear to be reducing or even stopping across the world. As our paper shows, wastewater is helpful for early detection of emerging variants and can inform transmission fitness. Wastewater offers a lower cost approach to help bolster – but certainly not replace – clinical surveillance.