Covid tracking: 200,000 people to be regularly tested in bid to eliminate winter spread

Lab technician holding Covid vial

The study has been launched by the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA) and Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Holly Bishop

By Holly Bishop

Published: 03/10/2023

- 10:28

Updated: 03/10/2023

- 10:16

The study will run from November 2023 to March 2024

Up to 200,000 people will be monitored for Covid this winter in an attempt to stop the virus from spreading.

The study, launched by the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA) and Office for National Statistics (ONS), will run from November 2023 to March 2024.

Up to 32,000 lateral flow tests are expected to be used every week.

The infection survey will allow scientists to observe the rate of people being infected by the virus.

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It will also help them to assess the potential for increased demand on the NHS.

This will be the first official Covid estimate since March 2023, when the previous survey concluded.

The previous Covid survey ran from April 2020 until earlier this year and was considered the “gold standard” for monitoring the virus.

The number of people invited to take part is smaller than the initial survey.

However, the results obtained will be broadly representative of the UK population.

Personnel from the UKSHA and ONS have celebrated the launch of the second Covid health study.


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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,” he added.

Deputy National Statistician Emma Rourke at the ONS said: “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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However, in spite of the fears of a new variant looming, Dame Jenny Harries has admitted there will be no new mandatory lockdown in the event of a future pandemic.

The head of UKHSA, said that whilst the UK is facing a number of different health threats, a full-scale lockdown like Britain saw in 2020 and 2021 is unlikely.

“What we saw with omicron and later waves of the pandemic, and even now, is that people are good at watching the data and they will take action themselves,” said Harries.

A new Covid variant, dubbed Pirola, has prompted concerns among professionals.

Last month, the woman responsible for the UK's Covid vaccination rollout warned that a new pandemic could strike at any moment.

Dame Kate Bingham, who was responsible for procuring the jabs used to inoculate the population against the last health crisis, has urged governments around the world to prepare for an unknown disease to suddenly rear its head.

“The next major pandemic is coming. It’s already on the horizon, and could be far worse — killing millions more people — than the last one,” she wrote.

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