The Covid-19 Infection Survey, set up in April 2020 to provide weekly data on rates of circulating virus and new variants as well as the prevalence of long Covid, will be paused at the end of the month.
Public health officials said they were actively reviewing the best approach to Covid-19 surveillance to ‘ensure it is proportionate, cost effective and considered alongside how we monitor a range of other infectious diseases’.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said it would confirm details of new surveillance surveys that would continue beyond the end March soon.
Since its launch at the start of the pandemic, the Covid-19 Infection Survey, done in partnership with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), has regularly gathered and analysed more than 11 million swab tests and 3 million blood tests from households.
Weekly data on virus positivity levels across the UK have been published alongside details of new circulating variants, the characteristics of those have been infected, such as age and ethnicity, as well as population antibody levels and the numbers reporting ongoing symptoms.
The latest bulletin showed in England around 1.3 million people or one in 40 were infected with Covid-19 compared with one in 45 in Wales, one in 75 in Northern Ireland and one in 40 in Scotland.
Professor Steven Riley, director general of data, analytics and surveillance at UKHSA, said: ‘The Covid-19 Infection Survey has been an important tool in helping us understand Covid-19 and we’d like to thank every single participant for the huge contribution they have made.
‘We will continue to ensure our surveillance activities remain proportionate and cost effective with the move to Living with Covid-19.’
He added that participants of the survey would be uniquely placed to support future surveillance activities.
‘We remain committed to monitoring the threat posed by Covid-19 through our range of surveillance systems and genomics capabilities, which report on infection rates, hospitalisations and the risks posed by new variants.’
Sir Ian Diamond, national statistician and chief executive of the ONS, said: ‘The pandemic has been a formidable test of our ability to gather and analyse data quickly, and the unique value of the Covid-19 Infection Survey has been recognised worldwide.
‘The data from this survey has had an incredible impact on the country’s response to the pandemic, and its success instils confidence in the ability to stand up wider surveillance activities in future.’
Professor Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said: ‘There is no doubt that the ONS survey has done a magnificent job over the last three years in organising and collecting swab test results from the UK household population, and (with academic partners) analysing the resulting data and publishing the results in many informative ways. There hasn’t been an equivalent anywhere else.’
But there are other ways that data is collected in the UK, such as for flu surveillance, that have generally been effective, he added.
‘However, the announcement about pausing the CIS doesn’t make it clear what is actually going to happen about Covid surveillance after data collection from the ONS CIS is paused
‘While it’s important to balance out the available resource across many potential infectious disease threats, I’d be happier with the decision to pause the CIS if I knew more about what might replace it in three weeks.’
The Government stopped funding the ZOE Covid infection study, funded by UKHSA through the pandemic and run by King’s College London, as of last April.