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First results from Government antibody trial show 7% have had Covid-19

Seven per cent of the UK population had been infected with Covid-19 by May/June, according to a major Government study.

Researchers have analysed the blood of 20,000 study participants for antibodies to reach a result which they said was representative of the UK population. The volunteers were a combination of existing UK Biobank participants and their children and grandchildren aged over 18.

But although 7.1% was the average for the country as a whole, infection varied greatly by demographic, with geography, age, ethnicity and social deprivation making a vast difference to the rate of previous infection.

The study found that:

  • Previous infection was most common among participants who live in London (10.4%), and least common among those who live in the South-West of England and Scotland (4.4% in both).
  • There was no difference in the rates of previous infection between men and women, but the rates were higher in younger participants (from 10.8% in those under 30 to 5.4% in those over 70).
  • Participants living in areas with higher levels of socio-economic deprivation had a higher rate (8.9%) of previous infection than those who live in more affluent areas of the country (6.1%).
  • The rate of previous infection was higher among participants of Black (11.3%) and South Asian (9.0%) ethnicity than among those of White ethnicity (6.9%). 

They said that as a result of these trends, some sub-groups had ‘particularly high’ rates of previous infection.

Their report said: ‘For example, the rate was 18.4% in participants from ethnic minority groups who are aged under 30 and living in London.’

They concluded: ‘These initial findings are hugely valuable for assessing the current extent of previous infection.’

UK Biobank are collecting blood samples from approximately 20,200 individuals on a monthly basis for at least six months to determine the extent of past infection with SARS-CoV-2 across different regions of the UK.

These were the results of month 1 of the study.

Public Health England’s rapid review into Covid-19 deaths in May concluded that people of BAME origin were significantly more at risk from Covid-19 than white people, with the report admitting the pandemic had laid bare ‘humbling inequalities’.

The news comes as a University of East Anglia study found that nearly two-thirds of NHS workers may have had Covid-19 during the spring.