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REACT-1 round 7 updated report: regional heterogeneity in changes in prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection during the second national COVID-19 lockdown in England

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

Posted 16 Dec 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.15.20248244

Background England exited a four-week second national lockdown on 2nd December 2020 initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior results showed that prevalence dropped during the first half of lockdown, with greater reductions in higher-prevalence northern regions. Methods REACT-1 is a series of community surveys of SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR swab-positivity in England, designed to monitor the spread of the epidemic and thus increase situational awareness. Round 7 of REACT-1 commenced swab-collection on 13th November 2020. A prior interim report included data from 13th to 24th November 2020 for 105,122 participants. Here, we report data for the entire round with swab results obtained up to 3rd December 2020. Results Between 13th November and 3rd December (round 7) there were 1,299 positive swabs out of 168,181 giving a weighted prevalence of 0.94% (95% CI 0.87%, 1.01%) or 94 per 10,000 people infected in the community in England. This compares with a prevalence of 1.30% (1.21%, 1.39%) from 16th October to 2nd November 2020 (round 6), a decline of 28%. Prevalence during the latter half of round 7 was 0.91% (95% CI, 0.81%, 1.03%) compared with 0.96% (0.87%, 1.05%) in the first half. The national R number in round 7 was estimated at 0.96 (0.88, 1.03) with a decline in prevalence observed during the first half of this period no longer apparent during the second half at the end of lockdown. During round 7 there was a marked fall in prevalence in West Midlands, a levelling off in some regions and a rise in London. R numbers at regional level ranged from 0.60 (0.41, 0.80) in West Midlands up to 1.27 (1.04, 1.54) in London, where prevalence was highest in the east and south-east of the city. Nationally, between 13th November and 3rd December, the highest prevalence was in school-aged children especially at ages 13-17 years at 2.04% (1.69%, 2.46%), or approximately 1 in 50. Conclusion Between the previous round and round 7 (during lockdown), there was a fall in prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 swab-positivity nationally, but it did not fall uniformly over time or by geography. Continued vigilance is required to reduce rates of infection until effective immunity at the population level can be achieved through the vaccination programme.

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