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REACT-1 round 13 interim report: acceleration of SARS-CoV-2 Delta epidemic in the community in England during late June and early July 2021

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

Posted 08 Jul 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.07.08.21260185

Background Despite high levels of vaccination in the adult population, cases of COVID-19 have risen exponentially in England since the start of May 2021 driven by the Delta variant. However, with far fewer hospitalisations and deaths per case during the recent growth in cases compared with 2020, it is intended that all remaining social distancing legislation in England will be removed from 19 July 2021. Methods We report interim results from round 13 of the REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission-1 (REACT-1) study in which a cross-sectional sample of the population of England was asked to provide a throat and nose swab for RT-PCR and to answer a questionnaire. Data collection for this report (round 13 interim) was from 24 June to 5 July 2021. Results In round 13 interim, we found 237 positives from 47,729 swabs giving a weighted prevalence of 0.59% (0.51%, 0.68%) which was approximately four-fold higher compared with round 12 at 0.15% (0.12%, 0.18%). This resulted from continued exponential growth in prevalence with an average doubling time of 15 (13, 17) days between round 12 and round 13. However, during the recent period of round 13 interim only, we observed a shorter doubling time of 6.1 (4.0, 12) days with a corresponding R number of 1.87 (1.40, 2.45). There were substantial increases in all age groups under the age of 75 years, and especially at younger ages, with the highest prevalence in 13 to 17 year olds at 1.33% (0.97%, 1.82%) and in 18 to 24 years olds at 1.40% (0.89%, 2.18%). Infections have increased in all regions with the largest increase in London where prevalence increased more than eight-fold from 0.13% (0.08%, 0.20%) in round 12 to 1.08% (0.79%, 1.47%) in round 13 interim. Overall, prevalence was over 3 times higher in the unvaccinated compared with those reporting two doses of vaccine in both round 12 and round 13 interim, although there was a similar proportional increase in prevalence in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals between the two rounds. Discussion We are entering a critical period with a number of important competing processes: continued vaccination rollout to the whole adult population in England, increased natural immunity through infection, reduced social mixing of children during school holidays, increased proportion of mixing occurring outdoors during summer, the intended full opening of hospitality and entertainment and cessation of mandated social distancing and mask wearing. Surveillance programmes are essential during this next phase of the epidemic to provide clear evidence to the government and the public on the levels and trends in prevalence of infections and their relationship to vaccine coverage, hospitalisations, deaths and Long COVID.

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