The Coronavirus Infection Study

This research, undertaken by researchers at the Office for National Statistics (ONS), University of Oxford, University of Manchester, and Public Health England, securely analysed data via the ONS Secure Research Service (SRS), which is being expanded and improved with ADR UK funding.

Following the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK, it was crucial to understand how Covid-19 was spreading across the population in order to control the pandemic and its effects.

To assist the government’s response, ONS, in partnership with the University of Oxford, the University of Manchester, and Public Health England, set up the Coronavirus Infection Survey. It was launched in April 2020, to measure:

  • How many people across the UK test positive for a Covid-19 infection at a given point in time;
  • The average number of new infections per week over the course of the study;
  • The number of people who test positive for antibodies, to indicate how many people are ever likely to have had the infection.

The study tests people for the virus whether they have symptoms or not, with data routinely collected from each individual in a household, via nose and throat swabs from people as young as two-years-old  (to measure the infection rate) and blood samples from people as young as 16-years-old (to measure antibodies).

Information is collected from each participant about their socio-demographic characteristics, any symptoms that they are experiencing, whether they are self-isolating or shielding, their occupation, how often they work from home, and whether they have come into contact with a suspected carrier of Covid-19.

The the Coronavirus Infection Survey is analysed in the Secure Research Service (SRS) by ONS and its academic partners.The survey data can be used for:

  • Estimating the number of current positive cases in the community, including cases where people do not report having any symptoms;
  • Identifying differences in numbers of positive cases between different regions;
  • Estimating the number of new cases and change over time in positive cases.

The findings are a very reliable way of understanding the trends in the number of infections and how these are increasing or decreasing.

Research impact

Results of the survey are published weekly and include the number of people who had Covid-19 each week in each of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Coronavirus Infection Survey has provided some of the most important information for decision making related to the Covid-19 pandemic, at the highest level within Government, including the following:

  • Data used to contribute to SAGE estimates of the rate of transmission of the infection, often referred to as “R”
  • Results from the survey have informed national government policies and decisions, such as how and when to exit lockdown, reopening the economy
  • Results have helped to monitor and inform local-level lockdown decisions in areas like Leicester and the North West of England
  • Socio-demographic data and other survey questions have helped epidemiologists and Government understand the transmission rate within households, likelihood of people in certain occupations (eg healthcare) to contract the virus (and the impact of protective measures such as social distancing and PPE), the prevalence and types of symptoms associated with the virus.

Find out more via the weekly ONS bulletins.

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