Expansion of COVID-19 infection survey announced for UK

The ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey tracking the virus in the general population will be expanded from regularly testing 28,000 people per fortnight in England to 150,000 by October, the Health Secretary has announced.

The survey, tracking the virus in the general population, aims to increase to 400,000 people across the entire project in England. ONS has also partnered with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to extend the survey across the four nations, making this the UK’s largest COVID-19 surveillance survey.

The expanded study will provide extensive, weekly data on the spread of infection, supporting rapid testing and diagnosis of COVID-19 both nationally and in areas of concern. The ONS will prioritise ramping up of testing in the North West of England.

Letters have already been sent out to tens of thousands of homes inviting new participants to take part in the survey. Anyone who receives a letter asking them to participate in the study is encouraged to do so.

Reporting on a weekly basis, the ONS study will provide both a national picture of how the virus is spreading as well as granular estimates of the number of COVID-19 cases down to local level. This will allow Government and local authorities to further narrow down the areas which may be undergoing outbreaks, potentially reducing the number of people affected by new restrictions and allowing for swift action to curb the spread of the virus.

Led by the ONS and the University of Oxford in partnership with the departments of health across the UK, the survey uses routine swabbing and antibody testing to provide insight into the rate of infection and antibody levels in the community.