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New Australian standard helps COVID-19 hotspot detection

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22 December 2020

Identifying COVID-19 infections has become more reliable with the release this week of the National Measurement Institute (NMI)’s new reference standard for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This new standard can be used to determine whether current methods for COVID-19 can detect very low amounts of virus, thereby giving greater surety that infected people can be identified.

The standard will support Australia’s health authorities by increasing the reliability of testing, whether this be for quarantined travellers, managing local clusters or in our sewage systems. NMI is also working with the Australian water industry’s ColoSSoS project on wastewater surveillance of COVID-19 .

Dr Lindsey Mackay, General Manager of Chemical and Biological Metrology at NMI, remarked, “This standard represents eight months of work by a highly dedicated team of experts within NMI using state of the art techniques. It’s a great milestone to now be releasing this benchmark standard for Australia for COVID-19 measurements.”

Unlike many other COVID standards that are synthetic fragments of the virus, this standard involves the entire virus genome. This means the standard is an excellent mimic of the virus and is the ideal type of standard to effectively assess how real samples are measured.

The NMI project manager, Dr Daniel Burke, noted: “We measured the effects of many variables so we could be sure that the concentrations were accurate, even at very low concentrations. NMI’s standard will make it easier to compare measurements made in different states and ensure all of Australia is in the best position to control virus transmission.”

The standard is made from an inactivated virus culture obtained from the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory and has been developed in conjunction with the National Serology Reference Laboratory (NRL), whose mission is to promote the quality of testing for infectious diseases both in Australia and globally.

“This standard will give Australian test kit manufacturers and testing laboratories a reliable foundation for establishing the accuracy of their coronavirus tests,” said NRL Scientific and Business Relations Manager Mr Wayne Dimech.

An international study on COVID-19 this year among 20 different countries showed that NMI’s standard is accurate world-wide.

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