Co-incidence of BA.1 and BA.2 at the start of Singapore's Omicron wave revealed by Community and University Campus wastewater surveillance

F J D Chua, S Y Kim, E Hill, J W Cai, W L Lee, X Q Gu, S A A Afri, W C G Kwok, W J Ng, M Leifels, F Armas, F Chandra, H J Chen, E J Alm, M Tay, C C J Wong, L C Ng, S Wuertz, J R Thompson

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

8 Citations (Scopus)


Wastewater surveillance (WWS) has been globally recognised to be a useful tool in quantifying SARS-CoV-2 RNA at the community and residential levels without biases associated with case-reporting. The emergence of variants of concern (VOCs) have given rise to an unprecedented number of infections even though populations are increasingly vaccinated. This is because VOCs have been reported to possess higher transmissibility and can evade host immune responses. The B.1.1.529 lineage (Omicron) has severely disrupted global plans to return to normalcy. In this study, we developed an allele-specific (AS) RT-qPCR assay which simultaneously targets the stretch of deletions and mutations in the spike protein from position 24-27 for quantitative detection of Omicron BA.2. Together with previous assays that detect mutations associated with Omicron BA.1 (deletion at position 69 and 70) and all Omicron (mutation at position 493 and 498), we report the validation and time series of these assays from September 2021 to May 2022 using influent samples from two wastewater treatment plants and across four University campus sites in Singapore. Viral RNA concentrations at the treatment plants corroborate with locally reported clinical cases, AS RT-qPCR assays revealed co-incidence of Omicron BA.1 and BA.2 on 12 January 2022, almost two months after initial BA.1 detection in South Africa and Botswana. BA.2 became the dominant variant by the end of January 2022 and completely displaced BA.1 by mid-March 2022. University campus sites were similarly positive for BA.1 and/or BA.2 in the same week as first detection at the treatment plants, where BA.2 became rapidly established as the dominant lineage within three weeks. These results corroborate clinical incidence of the Omicron lineages in Singapore and indicate minimal silent circulation prior to January 2022. The subsequent simultaneous spread of both variant lineages followed strategic relaxation of safe management measures upon meeting nationwide vaccination goals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number162611
Pages (from-to)162611
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date03 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jun 2023
Externally publishedYes


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