Findings from latest COVID-19 REACT-1 study published 13 May

Findings from Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI show infections have halved since the last REACT-1 study in March, with only 1 in 1,000 people infected.

Data suggest the vaccination rollout continues to impact positively on prevalence, but new variants remain a threat.

Findings from the eleventh report of REACT-1, one of the country’s largest studies into COVID-19 infections in England, have been published today (Thursday 13 May) by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI.

Over 127,000 volunteers were tested with PCR tests in England between 15 April and 3 May to examine the levels of coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the general population. The latest data show infections in England have halved since the last REACT-1 report published on 8 April, where testing took place between 11 and 30 March.

The main findings from the eleventh round of the REACT study show:

  • between rounds 10 (11-30 March) and 11 (15 April-3 May), national prevalence has dropped by 50% from 0.20% to 0.10%
  • an R number of 0.90 in England for the period of rounds 10 to 11
  • the number of infections (prevalence) was similar across regions during round 11
  • prevalence has fallen in 55 to 64 year olds from 0.17% in round 10 to 0.06% in round 11, which may reflect the rollout of the vaccination programme to this age group
  • prevalence was highest in 25 to 34 year olds at 0.21%, and lowest in the over-75s at 0.05%
  • COVID-19 prevalence was highest in participants of Asian ethnicity (0.31%) compared with white participants at 0.09%
  • data on variants show 92% of infections were from the B.1.1.7 (first identified in Kent) variant compared to 7.7% B.1.617.2 (first identified in India) variant

The study found a divergence between the prevalence of infections and hospitalisations and deaths, suggesting infections may have led to fewer hospitalisations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination.

Latest data published this week by Public Health England (PHE) shows a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine reduces the risk of death with COVID-19 by approximately 80% – and two doses of Pfizer cut it by 97%.

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said:

Today’s findings demonstrate the impact our incredible vaccination rollout is having on COVID-19 infection rates across the country, with prevalence lowest amongst those more vulnerable people aged 65 and over.

We will continue to monitor the data closely as we cautiously enter stage 3 of our roadmap on Monday. We’re going in the right direction but with variants present, we must continue to exercise caution and follow hands, face, space and fresh air, and get the jab when the offer comes.

This REACT-1 report also determines which variant the samples showing positive for COVID-19 are: the majority of COVID-19 infections continue to be the B.1.1.7 (first identified in Kent) variant. The latest round of REACT-1 has found some positive cases of the B.1.617.2 (first identified in India) variant in London. This complements PHE’s data on the spread of the B.1.617.2 variant, which they classified on 7 May 2021 as a ‘variant of concern’.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said:

It is very encouraging that infections have continued to fall while rules have been relaxed in England, and it’s likely that the vaccine rollout has played a key part in helping keep the virus at bay. We need to continue to monitor trends in the coming weeks as restrictions are eased further, and in the meantime, we must continue to stick to the rules to help keep infections down and enable the vaccination programme to continue to protect people.

Kelly Beaver, Managing Director, Public Affairs at Ipsos MORI said:

The further reduction in COVID-19 prevalence is incredibly encouraging. Many thanks to the 1.7 million people who have taken part in the REACT1 study as volunteers to date – their contribution is helping us understand the prevalence of COVID across England as we continue on the government’s roadmap milestones.

The government is working closely with local authorities and PHE to deploy additional measures across London to help control the spread of COVID-19 variants and break chains of transmission quickly. Positive tests with a high enough viral load from London are being prioritised for genomic sequencing to check for variants, and surge testing can begin immediately if it is needed. Surge testing has also been deployed in Bolton to support B.1.617.2 variant cases identified there.

On Monday 10 May 2021, the Prime Minister confirmed that step 3 of the roadmap to ease out of lockdown will begin on Monday 17 May. This will include the opening of indoor hospitality venues such as restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as cinemas, theatres and museums. Up to 6 people or 2 households will be able to meet indoors and up to 30 people outdoors, and friends and family can exercise their judgement on physical contact.

This report is the latest from the REACT-1 study which was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and carried out by a world-class team of scientists, clinicians and researchers at Imperial College London, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos MORI.

Robust population surveillance studies are essential to understanding the rate of COVID-19 infection, how the virus is spreading across the country and the impact of measures taken to contain the virus in order to inform current and future actions.

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