A method of testing sewage to pin down localised coronavirus outbreaks could be fine-tuned to check cases on aircraft, ships and aged care homes, an inquiry has heard.
National science agency CSIRO has been testing different methods of analysing wastewater to find the most cost-effective, rapid and accurate system.
Such analysis can detect the presence of COVID-19 carriers in the community regardless of whether they show symptoms.
The new research builds on the world's first peer-reviewed proof-of-concept trial run in Brisbane by CSIRO and the University of Queensland which tested untreated sewage and found fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19.
CSIRO chief operating officer Judi Zielke told a Senate inquiry on Tuesday the method had progressed to the level that it could be used on wastewater from an aircraft or a ship.
"(It would involve) trying to work through the system to identify where the particular infection has come from ... or isolating passengers of a plane or a ship," she said.
Other possible applications could be an aged care facility or a remote Indigenous community where outbreaks would have an "extremely bad" health impact.
Asked whether the technology could track individuals - such as the three women identified recently by authorities as having travelled from Melbourne to Brisbane - she said it was more focused on assessing a percentage of COVID-19 cases in a particular area.
"At the moment it is yet to be proven exactly what our numbers are, but we are of the view that it is as low as less than 10 that we can actually detect at the moment."
The technology also had great value in checking whether an area is clear of coronavirus or keeping an eye on its growth in a town or region.
CSIRO also has a range of other work under way including a new Advanced Biologics Manufacturing Facility set to open by the end of 2021 to turn vaccine and drug candidates into safe and effective treatments.
The facility would have international accreditation to enable local biotech companies to meet US and European standards and seek to break into overseas markets.
Australian Associated Press