The UK will be expanding national testing for COVID-19 in the general population in order to provide extensive, weekly data on the spread of the virus.
The ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey, currently tracking the virus, will expand from regularly testing 28,000 people per fortnight in England to 150,000 by October and 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 Government is to provide a £2m grant to the ZOE COVID-19 Symptom Study app to support the ongoing data collection.
Better COVID-19 data
The expanded study will play a crucial role in providing 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 in the north west of England and London in light of recent upticks in infection rates in these areas.
Letters have already been sent out to tens of thousands of homes inviting new participants to take part in the survey.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This country now has the capacity to test for coronavirus on an unprecedented scale and this ONS survey will be a crucial part of this work – improving our understanding of the rate of infection in the population and how many people have antibodies.
“This will allow us to further narrow down the areas potentially affected by local outbreaks and continue our fight to curb the spread ahead of winter.
“I urge anyone who is able to take part in this study to do so – you will be playing a vital role in the fight against the virus. The data and insight gathered will help inform our national, regional, and local responses to the pandemic, allowing this nation to get back to the things we love doing.”
The ONS study
The ONS study, which will be reporting on a weekly basis, will provide #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 – allowing government and local authorities to further narrow down the areas which may be undergoing outbreaks.
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.
Collaborating with ZOE
The Government is providing a £2m grant to the ZOE COVID-19 Symptom Study app to support its data collection. Participants use the app to regularly report on their health and symptoms and whether they have tested positive for the virus or not, making it the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world.
Data from the app is analysed in collaboration with King’s College London researchers and provides granular data on symptoms across the country, helping identify local outbreaks and support NHS decision-making.
The government will not have access to the base data gathered by the app. The ZOE app is separate to the NHS Test and Trace app, which was launched last week for a trial run, to support national and local contact tracing and help minimise the spread of COVID-19.