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REACT-1 round 10 report: Level prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 swab-positivity in England during third national lockdown in March 2021

By Steven Riley, Oliver Eales, David Haw, 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 15 Apr 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.04.08.21255100

Background In England, hospitalisations and deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 have been falling consistently since January 2021 during the third national lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first significant relaxation of that lockdown occurred on 8 March when schools reopened. Methods The REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission-1 (REACT-1) study augments routine surveillance data for England by measuring swab-positivity for SARS-CoV-2 in the community. The current round, round 10, collected swabs from 11 to 30 March 2021 and is compared here to round 9, in which swabs were collected from 4 to 23 February 2021. Results During round 10, we estimated an R number of 1.00 (95% confidence interval 0.81, 1.21). Between rounds 9 and 10 we estimated national prevalence has dropped by ~60% from 0.49% (0.44%, 0.55%) in February to 0.20% (0.17%, 0.23%) in March. There were substantial falls in weighted regional prevalence: in South East from 0.36% (0.29%, 0.44%) in round 9 to 0.07% (0.04%, 0.12%) in round 10; London from 0.60% (0.48%, 0.76%) to 0.16% (0.10%, 0.26%); East of England from 0.47% (0.36%, 0.60%) to 0.15% (0.10%, 0.24%); East Midlands from 0.59% (0.45%, 0.77%) to 0.19% (0.13%, 0.28%); and North West from 0.69% (0.54%, 0.88%) to 0.31% (0.21%, 0.45%). Areas of apparent higher prevalence remain in parts of the North West, and Yorkshire and The Humber. The highest prevalence in March was found among school-aged children 5 to 12 years at 0.41% (0.27%, 0.62%), compared with the lowest in those aged 65 to 74 and 75 and over at 0.09% (0.05%, 0.16%). The close approximation between prevalence of infections and deaths (suitably lagged) is diverging, suggesting that infections may have resulted in fewer hospitalisations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination. Conclusion We report a sharp decline in prevalence of infections between February and March 2021. We did not observe an increase in the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 following the reopening of schools in England, although the decline of prevalence appears to have stopped. Future rounds of REACT-1 will be able to measure the rate of growth or decline from this current plateau and hence help assess the effectiveness of the vaccination roll-out on transmission of the virus as well as the potential size of any third wave during the ensuing months.

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