Beginning in April 2020, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey tests a representative sample of households across the UK for the virus to estimate infection levels.

Widely considered to be the “gold-standard” survey for infection numbers in the UK, the results present a weekly picture of the level of infection and have fed into important government decisions as well as influencing COVID-19 policies internationally. Data and analysis are disseminated through regular statistical bulletins and the ONS Insight Tool. It is being delivered in partnership with University of Oxford, University of Manchester, UK Health Security Agency and Wellcome Trust.

The study has now been awarded the Harding Prize for Useful and Trustworthy Communication, alongside fellow joint winner, the Cochrane Collaboration’s review of Hydroxychloroquine.

The prestigious award was launched this year to celebrate individuals or teams for trustworthy communication of information that helps people decide what to do or helps them judge a decision by others. The Harding Prize encourages the presentation of evidence in a balanced, non-manipulative way, open to talking about pros and cons, and about uncertainties. These are communications designed to help the audience make up their own mind on a subject – not to lead them to the conclusions that the communicator wants them to draw.

The award has been launched in association with the Science Media Centre and Sense about Science. The prize of £3,141.59 is awarded by the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, based in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge, supported by Sir David Harding.

The expert judging panel for the award, comprising Helen Boaden, Professor Jonathan van Tam, Professor Onora O’Neill, Fraser Nelson and Helen Jamieson, said:

“The survey became the bedrock of all accurate communication on changing infection rates and variables in the UK during the COVID pandemic. The survey was innovative, impartial and clear and it shaped decision-making at national, regional and local levels. Its lack of commentary – which probably made it rather dry for some audiences – augmented its credibility with policy-makers and those like journalists, talking directly to the public.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the survey became the gold standard of infection information and was the envy of scientific communities around the world. It also became a trusted source of reliable information for numerous members of the British public.”

Emma Rourke, Director of health analysis and pandemic insight at the ONS, said:

“The COVID-19 Infection Survey has required the skill and perseverance of a large and multi-talented team. At our core has been the need to communicate accurately to a diverse audience and be trusted to do so. We are delighted with this award from the Winton Centre and are gratified that the information we have provided has proved valuable to expert users and influential on policy, but also understood clearly by the public.”

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