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REACT-1 round 8 final report: high average prevalence with regional heterogeneity of trends in SARS-CoV-2 infection in the community in England during January 2021

By Steven Riley, Oliver Eales, Caroline E. Walters, Haowei Wang, 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 31 Jan 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.01.28.21250606

In early January 2021, England entered its third national lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce numbers of deaths and pressure on healthcare services, while rapidly rolling out vaccination to healthcare workers and those most at risk of severe disease and death. REACT-1 is a survey of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in the community in England, based on repeated cross-sectional samples of the population. Between 6th and 22nd January 2021, out of 167,642 results, 2,282 were positive giving a weighted national prevalence of infection of 1.57% (95% CI, 1.49%, 1.66%). The R number nationally over this period was estimated at 0.98 (0.92, 1.04). Prevalence remained high throughout, but with suggestion of a decline at the end of the study period. The average national trend masked regional heterogeneity, with robustly decreasing prevalence in one region (South West) and increasing prevalence in another (East Midlands). Overall prevalence at regional level was highest in London at 2.83% (2.53%, 3.16%). Although prevalence nationally was highest in the low-risk 18 to 24 year old group at 2.44% (1.96%, 3.03%), it was also high in those over 65 years who are most at risk, at 0.93% (0.82%, 1.05%). Large household size, living in a deprived neighbourhood, and Black and Asian ethnicity were all associated with higher levels of infections compared to smaller households, less deprived neighbourhoods and other ethnicities. Healthcare and care home workers, and other key workers, were more likely to test positive compared to other workers. If sustained lower prevalence is not achieved rapidly in England, pressure on healthcare services and numbers of COVID-19 deaths will remain unacceptably high.

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