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High prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 swab positivity and increasing R number in England during October 2020: REACT-1 round 6 interim report

By Steven Riley, Kylie E. C. Ainslie, Oliver Eales, Caroline E. Walters, Haowei Wang, Christina Atchinson, Claudio Fronterre, Peter J. Diggle, Deborah Ashby, Christl Donnelly, Graham Cooke, Wendy S Barclay, Helen Ward, Ara Darzi, Paul Elliott

Posted 03 Nov 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.30.20223123

BackgroundREACT-1 measures prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in representative samples of the population in England using PCR testing from self-administered nose and throat swabs. Here we report interim results for round 6 of observations for swabs collected from the 16th to 25th October 2020 inclusive. MethodsREACT-1 round 6 aims to collect data and swab results from 160,000 people aged 5 and above. Here we report results from the first 86,000 individuals. We estimate prevalence of PCR-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, reproduction numbers (R) and temporal trends using exponential growth or decay models. Prevalence estimates are presented both unweighted and weighted to be representative of the population of England, accounting for response rate, region, deprivation and ethnicity. We compare these interim results with data from round 5, based on swabs collected from 18th September to 5th October 2020 inclusive. ResultsOverall prevalence of infection in the community in England was 1.28% or 128 people per 10,000, up from 60 per 10,000 in the previous round. Infections were doubling every 9.0 (6.1, 18) days with a national reproduction number (R) estimated at 1.56 (1.27, 1.88) compared to 1.16 (1.05, 1.27) in the previous round. Prevalence of infection was highest in Yorkshire and The Humber at 2.72% (2.12%, 3.50%), up from 0.84% (0.60%, 1.17%), and the North West at 2.27% (1.90%, 2.72%), up from 1.21% (1.01%, 1.46%), and lowest in South East at 0.55% (0.45%, 0.68%), up from 0.29% (0.23%, 0.37%). Clustering of cases was more prevalent in Lancashire, Manchester, Liverpool and West Yorkshire, West Midlands and East Midlands. Interim estimates of R were above 2 in the South East, East of England, London and South West, but with wide confidence intervals. Nationally, prevalence increased across all age groups with the greatest increase in those aged 55-64 at 1.20% (0.99%, 1.46%), up 3-fold from 0.37% (0.30%, 0.46%). In those aged over 65, prevalence was 0.81% (0.58%, 0.96%) up 2-fold from 0.35% (0.28%, 0.43%). Prevalence remained highest in 18 to 24-year olds at 2.25% (1.47%, 3.42%). ConclusionThe co-occurrence of high prevalence and rapid growth means that the second wave of the epidemic in England has now reached a critical stage. Whether via regional or national measures, it is now time-critical to control the virus and turn R below one if further hospital admissions and deaths from COVID-19 are to be avoided.

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