The first report from the world’s largest home antibody testing programme tracking COVID-19 in England has found 6% of the population is infected with coronavirus.
Published today by Imperial College London, the study tracked the spread of infection following the first peak of the pandemic between 20 June and 13 July.
Over 100,000 volunteers tested themselves at home using a finger prick test to check if they have antibodies against the virus which causes COVID-19.
The findings indicate that 3.4 million people - 6% of the population - had already been infected by COVID-19 by 13 July 2020.
People living in London were most likely to have been infected, as were those working in care homes and health care, and people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups and people living in larger households.
‘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,’ said health minister Edward Argar.
‘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.’
Testing positive for antibodies does not mean you are immune to COVID-19. 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.
Professor Graham Cooke, NIHR Research Professor of Infectious Diseases and research lead at Imperial, commented: ‘There are still many unknowns with this new virus, including the extent to which the presence of antibodies offers protection against future infections.
‘Using the finger-prick tests suitable for large scale home testing has given us clearest insight yet into the spread of the virus in the country and who has been at greatest risk.
‘These data will have important implications as decisions to ease lockdown restrictions in England.’