UKHSA and ONS launch study to gather data on Covid-19

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have launched a study to gather data on Covid-19.

The Winter COVID-19 Infection Study (WCIS) will run from November 2023 to March 2024, and will involve up to 200,000 participants.

UKHSA previously commissioned the Coronavirus Infection Survey (CIS), which was carried out by the ONS during the pandemic, in partnership with scientific study leads Oxford University. From April 2020 to March 2023, CIS gathered and analysed more than 11.5 million swab tests and 3 million blood tests.

The new WCIS will involve up to 32,000 lateral flow tests being carried out each week, to provide key insight into the levels of COVID-19 circulating across the wider community. The sample will be broadly representative of the population according to key characteristics.

The study will allow UKHSA to detect changes in the infection hospitalisation rate (IHR), which requires accurate measurement of infection levels in the community, this will then enable UKHSA to assess the potential for increased demand on health services due to changes in the way the virus is spreading, which could be driven by the arrival of any new variants.

Professor Steven Riley, director general of data, analytics and surveillance at UKHSA, said: "The data we collected alongside the ONS during the pandemic provided us with a huge amount of valuable insight, so I am delighted that we are able to work together again to keep policymakers and the wider public informed in the coming months.

"UKHSA continues to lead the way internationally on COVID-19 surveillance and by re-introducing a study of positivity in the community, we can better detect changes in the behaviour of the virus."

Deputy national statistician Emma Rourke at the ONS said: "ONS is committed to building on the experience of standing up the gold standard CIS. Our resources and statistical expertise are here for the public good, and we are delighted to be delivering this study in partnership with UKHSA.

"There remains a need for robust data to help us continue to understand the virus and its effects during the winter months.

"As well as working to provide UKHSA with regular rates of positivity, we will also be looking at analysis of symptoms, risk factors and the impact of respiratory infections, including long COVID, as part of this important surveillance."

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