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REACT-1 round 9 interim report: downward trend of SARS-CoV-2 in England inFebruary 2021 but still at high prevalence

By Steven Riley, Caroline E. Walters, Haowei Wang, Oliver Eales, David Haw, 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 23 Feb 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.18.21251973

Background and MethodsEngland entered its third national lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic on 6th January 2021 with the aim of reducing the daily number of deaths and pressure on healthcare services. The real-time assessment of community transmission study (REACT-1) obtains throat and nose swabs from randomly selected people in England in order to describe patterns of SARS-CoV-2 prevalence. Here, we report data from round 9a of REACT-1 for swabs collected between 4th and 13th February 2021. ResultsOut of 85,473 tested-swabs, 378 were positive. Overall weighted prevalence of infection in the community in England was 0.51%, a fall of more than two thirds since our last report (round 8) in January 2021 when 1.57% of people tested positive. We estimate a halving time of 14.6 days and a reproduction number R of 0.72, based on the difference in prevalence between the end of round 8 and the beginning of round 9. Although prevalence fell in all nine regions of England over the same period, there was greater uncertainty in the trend for North West, North East, and Yorkshire and The Humber. Prevalence fell substantially across all age groups with highest prevalence among 18- to 24-year olds at 0.89% (0.47%, 1.67%) and those aged 5 to12 years at 0.86% (0.60%, 1.24%). Large household size, living in a deprived neighbourhood, and Asian ethnicity were all associated with increased prevalence. Healthcare and care home workers were more likely to test positive compared to other workers. ConclusionsThere is a strong decline in prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in England among the general population five to six weeks into lockdown, but prevalence remains high: at levels similar to those observed in late September 2020. Also, the number of COVID-19 cases in hospitals is higher than at the peak of the first wave in April 2020. The effects of easing of social distancing when we transition out of lockdown need to be closely monitored to avoid a resurgence in infections and renewed pressure on health services.

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