The largest study to date examining rates of coronavirus infection in the general public has found that there was a significant reduction of the virus before lockdown restrictions were eased.
According to researchers at Imperial College London, the rates of infection fell during May, the last month of lockdown, halving every eight to nine days.
There were on average 13 positive cases for every 10,000 people, with an overall reproduction number of 0.57 – lower than previously reported.
Other key findings were that young adults, aged 18 to 24, were more likely to test positive than other age groups, underscoring the need for this age group to adhere to social distancing measures to protect vulnerable friends and family, and that those Asian ethnicity were more likely to test positive than those of white ethnicity.
Also, care home staff and healthcare workers were more likely to be infected with COVID-19 during lockdown than the general population, and anyone who had recent contact with a known COVID-19 case was 24 times more likely to test positive than those with no such contacts.
The Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT-1) programme, commissioned by DHSC and carried out by a team of scientists, clinicians and researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos MORI, provides a baseline for further research a clearer picture of the spread of the virus to help inform measures tailored to limit its spread.
“Community testing is a vital step in ongoing efforts to mitigate the pandemic, but to be successful this must be based on robust scientific evidence and sound statistics,” said Professor Paul Elliott, FMedSci, director of the programme at Imperial College London.
“Through this surveillance programme with DHSC and Ipsos MORI we’re gathering the critical knowledge base necessary to underpin community testing and facilitate a greater understanding of the prevalence of COVID-19 in every corner of England.”
In the second part of the programme (REACT-2), various antibody tests have been assessed for accuracy and ease of use at home.
Plans are underway to roll this out to 100,000 people to identify the levels of antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19 in the general public.