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

The COVID-19 Infection Survey is being extended to include Wales for the first time following a successful launch of the study in England.

So far over 100,000 swab tests have been carried out in total over the duration of the study in England, with over 3,000 antibody tests and weekly publication of the latest analysis of results.

Initially 500 households in Wales 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) surveys to create a representational sample for the whole of Wales.

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

In partnership with the Welsh Government, the Newport-based ONS will work with the University of Oxford, backed by the proven research capabilities of human data science company IQVIA and the National Biosample Centre in Milton Keynes, to reach participants and test samples.

Professor Sir Ian Diamond, National Statistician yesterday said:

"This is a great opportunity to build on the success of this survey, which has already helped to inform debates as difficult decisions about relieving lockdown continue. Through working with the Welsh Government to increase the scale of this survey I am confident that it will continue to be able to deliver important results that can inform both countries' efforts to confront this pandemic.

"These results will become more valuable as we are able to deliver more detail to show how the scale of infection continues to change for different demographics and local areas.  We are continuing to work closely with central and devolved governments across the UK to deliver insights and analysis that can help inform decisions as we move into the next phase of tackling this virus."

Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services for the Welsh Government, yesterday said:

"Research happening in Wales such as this COVID-19 Infection Survey, is integral for us to progress forward through this pandemic.  We have always said that as a government we will be led by the science, backing each step we take as we work towards the 'new normal'.

"Support from people from every corner of Wales is essential for us to gain the best understanding we possibly can about this virus, and how it continues to move and affect our different communities. I'd like to thank everyone involved for being a part of this for Wales' future."

As is already the case in England, 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 health 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 Wales 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. 

Notes to Editors

  • Trained study health workers will use all the recommended precautions to protect themselves and everyone in the household from getting the virus.
  • Swab test results will be communicated back to participants by their GPs and confidentiality will be protected throughout the process.
  • Welsh Government have always based our approach on the best available scientific evidence, health surveillance and international learning and will continue to do so.
  • The flagship study supports the Test, Trace, Protect strategy, which is critical to allow Welsh Government to learn more about the spread of the disease and help inform the development of new tests and treatments. It will add to the population data already being collected through the national surveillance programmes operated by Public Health Wales.
  • Work is underway with the devolved governments in Northern Ireland and Scotland to see how they too can benefit from this survey.


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