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Coronavirus testing programme shows virus decline in June

Imperial College London’s large-scale study on coronavirus infection rates has shown a further decline in Covid-19 in late June and early July across England, according to the newly-published second report from the ongoing study.

Between June 19 and July 8, 150,000 volunteers were tested by the study across England – representing the largest coronavirus study in the country.

The research is examining levels of infection within England’s general population and will now undergo peer review before a final report is published.

According to the findings, the virus has continued to decline across the country even as some restrictions were lifted. Despite a greater number of interactions with people outside of their households and non-essential shops reopening, the data gathered in the study showed the virus continued to halve every eight to nine days during the study period.

The report also demonstrated no significant differences between the prevalence of infection of key workers and non-key workers. This is in contrast to the findings from Imperial College London’s first study, which looked at infection in May and discovered increased risk among care and healthcare workers compared with non-key workers.

This change is suspected to be the result of the positive impact of effective infection control measures in care homes and hospitals.

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With increased testing for patients, residents and staff, more contact tracing and improved isolation of positive cases, the spread of the virus has been able to be better limited among health and social care settings while wider restrictions were eased.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This research highlights how, thanks to everyone’s efforts and sacrifice, alongside targeted measures to counter the spread of this virus in health and care settings, we were able to keep rates of infection low as some restrictions were lifted.

“However, we must not be complacent. I urge everyone to get a test if you have symptoms, self-isolate and provide your contacts to NHS Test and Trace so we can continue to keep the virus at bay and get back to normal.”

It shows rates of infection fell even further to just under eight positive cases per 10,000 people between 19 June and 8 July, when some lockdown restrictions had eased. Out of the 159,199 swab tests carried out in those two weeks, 123 were positive.

This second report builds upon the first which looked at infection during May and showed there were on average 13 positive cases for every 10,000 people during national lockdown.

The key findings from the second report include:

  • over those 2 weeks in June and July, the rates of infection halved every 8 to 9 days, similar to that measured during May, with an overall reproduction number of 0.58, compared to 0.57 during May
  • at any one point in those 2 weeks there were 39,000 people with COVID-19 compared to 74,000 in May
  • no significant differences in the rates of infection by age – a contrast to the May results where higher rates of infection were seen in the 18 to 24 years age group
  • Black, Asian and other ethnic minority individuals were more likely to test positive than those of white ethnicity. Work is underway between the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), local directors of public health and local authorities to understand and mitigate risks of transmission for BAME communities at a local level

Professor Paul Elliott, FMedSci, Director of the programme at Imperial College London, added: “Through our community testing programme, we’re beginning to build a more informed picture of COVID-19 across England. This surveillance programme is showing us the prevalence of infection between different demographics, age groups and ethnicities as well as giving us insight into how easing lockdown restrictions are affecting the infection rate.”


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