ESR, the Government's science and research agency, has received a $1.6 million boost to look into detecting coronavirus in sewage.
The funding will go towards developing a waste-water surveillance programme.
Similar testing overseas has successfully identified the presence of the virus in communities before there have been any confirmed cases.
“In the Netherlands it was detected a week or so before any clinical cases were detected. it does have the potential to detect something that is about to happen,” ESR senior scientist Joanne Hewitt said.
Scientists say the testing will mean early intervention if the virus begins to spread again.