During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published weekly figures on the latest results from the COVID-19 Infection Survey. These figures cover the latest available estimates of the numbers and proportion of the population in the UK who would test positive for COVID-19. These figures are regularly broken down by age, country and English region but can also include additional information and characteristics, for example, new variants of the virus or people’s occupation types. Since the start of 2021, we have published fortnightly estimates of antibodies by age and some other characteristics to help monitor the impact of the vaccination programme.
When ONS removed pre-release access, it was made clear that in certain circumstances, such as when important for operational planning and decision-making, early access can be given under the authority of the National Statistician.
The rapidly changing nature of the pandemic requires timely decisions to be made by government and its advisors on the pandemic response. To do this, decision-makers need data that are as timely as possible. Therefore, a short time before final statistics are published, some results are provided for operational planning and decision-making purposes. This contains quality assured data in pre-published form, that is, the full quality assurance that takes place prior to publication has not yet been completed and the statistics have not yet been signed off by the responsible statistician within ONS for publication.
This arrangement has been referred to in our weekly bulletin and is in line with guidance published from the Office for Statistics Regulation, which states that:
During times of rapid change there is an increased need for timely and detailed data. It is important that ministers have up-to-date information to inform government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. This type of data, used to inform operational delivery, policy decisions and measure operational performance, are often termed Management Information.
The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) recognises the importance of Management Information to the operations of government. There is currently a need to share information more widely than usual to inform decisions in response to the pandemic and the efforts being made by analysts to meet the increased demand for timely Management Information.
Since data were first available from the COVID-19 Infection Survey (May 2020), early Management Information has been provided to a recorded list of individuals who are required to meet strict conditions confirming that their role and the work they do feeds directly into COVID-19 decision-making. The distribution list for these data includes named individuals, Ministers and key Government officials representing the following organisations, and is regularly reviewed and updated:
UK government departments:
- Cabinet Office (including the Cabinet Office COVID Task force)
- Department for Education
- Department for Health and Social Care
- Her Majesty’s Treasury
- Number 10
Advisory and health organisations:
- Government Office for Science
- Joint Biosecurity Centre
- Manchester University
- New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG)
- NHS England and NHS Improvement
- Oxford University
- Public Health England
- Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE)
- Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling Group (SPI-M)
- University College London
- Health Northern Ireland
- Scottish Government
- Welsh Government
- Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA)
- National Records of Scotland (NRS)