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Office for National Statistics’ COVID-19 Infection Survey to extend to Northern Ireland

The COVID-19 Infection Survey is being extended to include Northern Ireland for the first time following successful launches of the study in England and Wales.

So far over 195,000 swab tests have been carried out in total over the duration of the study in England and Wales, and over 6,000 antibody tests carried out in England. The latest analysis of the results from the survey for England are presented in a weekly publication, with the first results from Wales expected to be published in the coming weeks.

Initially 500 households in Northern Ireland are being contacted to take part in this new phase, with a further 500 households added each week as the survey continues to develop. These have been chosen from participants in previous Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) surveys to create a representational sample for the whole of Northern Ireland.

The results will build a detailed and reliable picture of infection rates within Northern Ireland that will inform scientists and the Department of Health Northern Ireland in their ongoing response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Initial findings are expected to be available towards the end of September.

In partnership with the Department of Health Northern Ireland the ONS will work with the University of Oxford to reach participants and test samples.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician yesterday said:

“We are happy to see this survey expand to include Northern Ireland following successful launches in both England and Wales. By working with the Department of Health Northern Ireland to increase the scale of the survey we will be helping to inform the local response and the response of the United Kingdom as a whole to the virus.

“As time goes on the survey has been able to provide more and more detailed information about who has been infected and estimates of the numbers of people who have developed antibodies to COVID-19. We welcome the opportunity to deliver insights and analysis on COVID-19 infections in Northern Ireland that can help inform the next phase of tackling this virus.”

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann yesterday said:

“I very much welcome the fact that the COVID-19 Infection Survey is being rolled out to Northern Ireland. The research will complement studies already underway into antibody seroprevalence in different population groups.

“The more we know and understand about COVID -19, the better equipped we will be to deal with it.

“It is particularly important that we build up our knowledge on the spread of the virus within our population.

“I would strongly encourage anyone who receives an invitation to take part in the survey to accept.”

As is already the case in England and Wales, participants will provide samples taken from self-administered nose and throat swabs and answer a few short questions during a home visit by a trained study worker. The swab tests will show whether or not participants currently have the virus. They will be asked to take further tests every week for the first five weeks, then every month for 12 months.

Adults from around 10% of the total households involved in this part of the survey will also be asked to provide a blood sample taken by a trained nurse, phlebotomist or healthcare assistant. These tests will help determine what proportion of the population has developed antibodies to COVID-19. Participants will be asked to give further samples monthly for the next 12 months.

Swabs will be taken from all participating households, whether their members are reporting symptoms or not. Blood samples will not be taken in any households where someone has symptoms of COVID-19 or is currently self-isolating or shielding.

With this evidence it is hoped that estimates can be produced for the whole of Northern Ireland on the scale of the infection, level of antibodies present and what the new infection rate is.

The COVID-19 Infection Survey has been running in England for over eight weeks, with over 20,000 samples now being collected on a regular basis and in Wales for four weeks.

Notes to Editors

  • Trained study workers will use all the recommended precautions to protect themselves and everyone in the household from getting the virus.
  • Work is underway with the devolved government in Scotland to see how they too can benefit from this survey.

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