NEWS23 April 2020

Government and ONS launch Covid-19 infection study

Covid-19 Healthcare News UK

UK – The government has launched a 12-month study with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to track the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

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The study is part of the government’s wider strategy on testing. It aims to learn more about the spread of Covid-19 and help inform how new tests and treatments are developed.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the ONS are leading the study and are working with data science company IQVIA UK and the National Biosample Centre.

The first wave of the research will involve 20,000 participants in England only. A press release from the DHSC says the government plans to extend this to ‘up to 300,000’ people during the next year, extending to other parts of the UK ‘in due course’.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the survey will “help to track the current extent of transmission and infection” and answer “crucial questions about immunity”. 

In addition to providing samples taken from self-administered nose and throat swabs to determine whether or not they currently have the virus, participants will take part in a face-to-face interview with a health worker from IQVIA. Participants will be asked to repeat the swab tests for the first five weeks and then monthly for 12 months.

The study will also involve blood tests as the government looks to determine how many people have developed immunity to Covid-19. Adults from 1,000 households will provide a blood sample taken by a nurse, phlebotomist or healthcare assistant. Participants will be asked to give blood samples monthly for the next 12 months, with de-identified samples sent to Oxford University for antibody testing.

Ian Diamond, national statistician, said: “The Office for National Statistics has huge experience in running very large household surveys that gather vital information from a genuinely representative sample of the entire population. In this case we’ll be using that capability to help our health expert colleagues to create a reliable picture of the scale of Covid-19 infection and antibody development that will inform the key decisions that lie ahead in this pandemic.”