Due to the fact that a large part of the population is asymptomatic in COVID-19, the actual scale of the disease in individual countries is difficult to estimate. It is, according to different estimates, several dozen or even several hundred times higher than the number of infected people diagnosed with molecular tests. Therefore, the UK wants to carry out a large-scale antibody test.
Swab and blood sample tests
The survey participants will be asked to provide their own handpicked swabs from the nose and throat and to complete a short questionnaire during the visit of a medical representative. For the first five weeks they will be asked to take swabs every week. Then, once a month, for the next year. In addition, about 1,000 participants will have blood tests (during the nurse’s visit at home). Such tests will also be repeated once a month for the next year.
What is important, swabs will be tested in all households participating in the study, regardless of whether their residents reported symptoms of infection or not. Blood tests will be carried out in those households where someone has symptoms of coronavirus or has to be in isolation.
Will it be possible to assess the actual scale of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The main aim of the study is to assess the current level of virus prevalence in the population by examining how many people have developed antibodies to coronavirus. The first phase of the study – a pilot – is to involve 25,000 people, of different ages and from different regions of the UK. The results are expected to be known at the beginning of May. Ultimately, within a year, 300,000 people are to be included in the study.
The survey will be conducted by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Blood samples will be tested at Oxford University, which is the sponsor of the study, and swabs at UK Biocentre. The pilot phase is only to take place in England, while at a later stage the tests are also to be carried out in other UK countries.
According to John Hopkins University, the UK is the sixth country in the world in terms of the number of diagnosed infected coronaviruses. As of 27 April morning, there were about 154,000 such cases.