6% of the population may have been infected with coronavirus
Findings published by Imperial College London suggest that around 3.4 million people in England have been infected with COVID-19.
The study tracked the spread of infection across England following the first peak of the pandemic.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said more than 100,000 volunteers tested themselves at home using a finger prick test between June 20 and July 13 to check if they have antibodies against the virus.
The findings indicate that 6% of the population had already been infected by July 13 and people living in London were most likely to have been infected (13% of those tested had antibodies, compared with 3% in the south-west of England).
There were far higher rates reported in people from Black (17%), Asian (12%) and other (12%) than white (5%) ethnicity. The study showed high rates in those with people-facing jobs in care homes (16%) and health care (12%), compared to 5% of people who were not key workers.
Almost everyone with a confirmed case of COVID was found to have antibodies (96%). People living in the most deprived areas had higher antibody levels than those in the wealthiest areas (7% compared with 5%). While 32% of people reported no symptoms, and this was more common in people over 65 (49%).
Health minister Edward Argar said: ‘Large scale antibody surveillance studies are crucial to helping us understand how the virus has spread across the country and whether there are specific groups who are more vulnerable, as we continue our work to drive down the spread of the disease.
‘We don’t yet know that antibodies provide immunity to coronavirus, but the more information we can gather on this virus, and the easier we can make it for people to participate in these studies, the better equipped we will be to respond.
‘The British public have already played a massive part in helping to keep the country safe and I’d urge them to consider signing up to one of the many vital surveillance studies taking place over the coming months as part of our national testing effort.’
A DHSC spokesman said this surveillance study will be repeated in autumn and will test a further 200,000 people for antibodies.
These home antibody tests can be used at home, providing results in under 15 minutes and are more practical for use in large scale antibody surveillance studies. However, no LFIA are yet approved for home use outside of a research study.
Testing positive for antibodies does not mean you are immune to COVID-19. Currently, there is no firm evidence that the presence of antibodies means someone cannot be re-infected with the virus.
If someone tests positive for antibodies, they still need to follow national guidelines including social distancing measures, getting a swab test if they have symptoms and wearing face coverings where required.
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