The University has announced that it will be supporting a new government study to track coronavirus in the general population.

The study aims to improve understanding about the current rate of infection and how many people are likely to have developed immunity.

Twenty thousand households in England will be contacted to take part in the first wave of the major study, with hopes it will reach up to 300,000 people in the next year. Participants will form a representative sample of the entire UK population by age and geography.

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Participants will self-administer nose and throat swabs as well as answering a few questions from a health worker. These tests will reveal whether or not they have been infected with the virus. Some will also provide blood samples which can be examined to determine what proportion of the population have developed antibodies to COVID-19.

Initial findings are expected to be available in early May.

The study is led by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), drawing on the scientific expertise of the University. It is also backed by the data science company IQVIA UK and the National Biosample Centre in Milton Keynes.

Professor Sarah Walker of the University of Oxford Nuffield Department of Medicine will be the Chief Investigator for the study. Walker said: “This is one of the largest and most important studies underway into the COVID-19 virus and will transform our understanding of the infection. The University of Oxford is delighted to be the study sponsor.

“In this study we want to work out how many people of different ages across the UK have Covid-19 now and how many have had Covid-19 in the past. We do this by testing for the virus in the nose and throat of people and by measuring levels of antibody in the blood.

“We also want to find out how many people have Covid-19 over time – either with symptoms or without knowing they have the infection because they don’t have any symptoms. We want to do this in a group of people that reflects the population of the UK, so a range of ages and places where people live.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Understanding more about the rate of COVID-19 infection in the general population, and the longer-term prevalence of antibodies, is a vital part of our ongoing response to this virus.

“This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus.

“Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments.”

Image Credit to Felipe Esquivel Reed/ Wikimedia Commons