1. How to take part

To take part, you will need to register with IQVIA; this is the company collecting data on behalf of the ONS and the University of Oxford.

To register, call IQVIA on the number included in your letter. You will also need to provide your reference number; you will find this in the top right-hand corner of your letter. Your reference number starts with three letters, for example “COV”. The telephone adviser will then be able to book you in for an appointment for a nurse or study health worker to visit your home to complete the study.

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2. About the study

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a major impact across the UK.

This study is trying to work out how many people have already had COVID-19, even if they do not realise they have had it. We do this by asking questions, taking a swab from your nose and throat, and possibly taking a blood sample. One way the body fights infections like COVID-19 is by making small particles in the blood called “antibodies”. Scientists will measure levels of the COVID-19 virus in a nose and throat swab and levels of these antibodies in blood to work out who has COVID-19 now (with or without symptoms) and who has had it in the past. We will measure levels of the virus in a nose and throat swab once in everyone who joins the study. Only some of these people will be asked to give blood as well.

This study is running over the course of a year. There are three options open to you. You can just have one visit. You can have a visit every week for a month. Or, you can have a visit every week for a month and then continue to have visits every month for one year in total from when you joined the study. This is entirely voluntary. The nurse or study health worker can explain more about what this will involve.

The overall purpose of this study is to understand how many people of different ages across the UK have already had COVID-19. This will help the government work out how to manage the pandemic better moving forwards and protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.

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3. What is an antibody?

Antibodies are one way that your body fights an infection. It takes between two to three weeks for your body to make enough of them to fight the infection. When you get better, they still stay in your blood at low levels – this is what helps you not get the same infection again.

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4. Who is carrying out the study?

The ONS is carrying out this study. The University of Oxford is sponsoring the study. We are working with other organisations to help collect and process the data for this study.

  • IQVIA will be responsible for arranging appointments, carrying out the nose and throat swabs, and taking the blood samples.

  • Scientists at the University of Oxford will be responsible for storing and processing the blood samples. They will create the antibody data for the ONS to analyse.

  • The National Biosample Centre and the Glasgow Lighthouse Laboratory are responsible for storing and processing the nose and throat swabs. They will create the virus data for the ONS to analyse.

  • The ONS and University of Oxford will analyse the data that have been processed by the University of Oxford and The National Biosample Centre.

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5. Why should I take part?

This study will allow scientists to understand who has been infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19), even if they have not realised it at the time. This will help the government work out how to manage the pandemic better moving forwards and protect the NHS from being overwhelmed.

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6. How have I been selected?

You may have been contacted because you:

  • are currently taking part in the Labour Force Survey; it is also really important to us that you continue to take part in that study
  • have recently taken part in one of our online studies
  • have been randomly selected from a database of addresses
  • have taken part in a survey conducted by NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistical Research Agency)

The letter you have received will have been addressed to a household member who took part in a previous ONS study or to the householder. However, in this study we are asking for all adults, teenagers and children aged two years or older in your household to take part.

In the first phase of this study, we asked around 11,000 households from England to take part. Over the next year, we are asking around 220,000 households to take part from across the UK.

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7. Do I have to take part?

Your participation is entirely voluntary, and you may withdraw at any time without providing a reason. Everyone in the household can make a different choice – it is not necessary for everyone to do the same. If you do take part, you may withdraw from the study at any time without giving a reason and without penalty. Parents or carers may also withdraw their child from the study at any time without giving a reason.

This is your chance to be involved in a unique study that will help scientists work out how many people have already been infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19). If you are still not convinced, you do not have to take part if you do not want to.

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8. Who can take part?

Anyone in the household aged two years or older can take part in this study. The only exception is adults who are not able to consent for themselves.

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9. How do I make an appointment if I have a hearing impairment?

If you have a hearing impairment and are unable to use the telephone, you can contact IQVIA by email at iqvia.covid19survey@nhs.net to make an appointment. You will need to provide your reference number in your email; you will find this in the top right-hand corner of your letter. Your reference number starts with the letters “COV”. An adviser will then contact you to book you in for an appointment for a nurse or study health worker to visit your home to complete the study.

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10. What happens if I decide to take part?

If you or anyone currently resident in your household would like to take part in the study, then we will arrange for a study health worker to visit your home. By current resident, we mean a person who typically stays overnight in the household address at least four nights out of seven. A "household" is defined as either:

  • one person living alone; or
  • a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room or sitting room or dining area

Please call IQVIA, the company collecting the data, to book an appointment convenient for you. The reason for sending someone from the study to your home is so that you do not have to travel to a health centre. Everyone working for the study has received appropriate training.

Anyone in your home who wants to, can take part in the study. However, no one has to – we will include as many people as want to join.

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11. Will I be paid for taking part?

As a thank you for taking part, everyone, including children, taking part in the study will receive a voucher.

You will be issued a voucher every time you participate in the study.

Please note we will never ask for your bank details, the vouchers will only ever be issued by email or in some cases by post.

Receiving your voucher

An email will be sent within 20 days of each completed appointment with instructions on how to redeem your voucher.

Please always check your junk or spam folder by searching for emails from the sender "latest-updates@sodexo-engage.com".

If you have not received your voucher within 20 days, please email incentives.mailbox@ons.gov.uk.

Spending your voucher

The voucher codes will be valid for three months from the date you receive the email. Once redeemed, the voucher for the specific retailer of your choice will be valid for much longer.

Both online and in-store vouchers are currently available for the following retailers, please note these are subject to change at short notice:

Online

  • Amazon
  • Asos
  • Boohoo
  • Buyagift
  • Eurostar
  • Evans Cycles
  • For Good Causes - Universal Charity
  • Global Hotel Card GB
  • Google Play
  • Hotels.com
  • Inspire Travel Card
  • ITunes
  • Lastminute.com
  • Not on The High Street
  • Red Letter Days
  • Ticketmaster
  • Uber
  • Uber Eats
  • Virgin
  • Virgin Experience
  • Zalando

In-store

  • Caffé Nero
  • Clarks
  • Costa Coffee
  • Footlocker
  • Halfords
  • Nando's
  • Pizza Hut
  • Primark
  • T.K.Maxx
  • Tesco
  • The Dining Out Card (Mitchell and Butler)
  • The Great British Pub Card

Both online and in-store

  • Adidas
  • Arcadia
  • Argos
  • Arsenal
  • B&Q
  • Blackwells
  • Decathlon
  • Ernest Jones
  • H. Samuel
  • John Lewis
  • Mococo Jewellery
  • National Book Tokens
  • National Trust
  • New Look
  • Nike
  • Ted Baker
  • The Body Shop
  • The Entertainer
  • The White Company

Redeeming or using your voucher

The email containing voucher codes will have instructions on how to redeem the voucher against your chosen retailer(s). For more information please visit the voucher supplier's help page.

If you would like help redeeming or using the voucher you can also email the voucher supplier directly on customersupport@sodexoengage.com.

Donating your voucher to charity or the NHS

Unfortunately, we cannot donate on your behalf, but when redeeming your voucher there is an option to donate the money to a charity of your choice. If you choose "For Good Causes universal charity", there will be an option of donating directly to the NHS and other charities from the list of over 17,000 charities. To do this, a voucher will still need to be issued to you by email.

Requesting a physical alternative

You can choose to receive a physical gift card instead of an online voucher. However, receipt of a physical gift card may be affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and we therefore cannot guarantee delivery within 20 days of appointment.

If you still wish to receive a physical gift card, please get in touch by calling the Office for National Statistics (ONS) enquiry line for free on 0800 298 5313 or email incentives.mailbox@ons.gov.uk.

Information on where you can spend a physical gift card is available.

If you still have questions

Please make sure you have completed the following before getting in contact with us directly:

If you have read both of these and your question was not answered, email us at incentives.mailbox@ons.gov.uk or call us for free on 0800 298 5313.

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12. What happens when the nurse or study health worker arrives?

When the study health worker visits your home, they will first check that you still want to join the study and also ask if any other adults (aged 16 years or over) would like to join as well. We will ask anyone aged 16 years or over who wants to join to sign a consent form.

If an older child or teenager aged 10 to 15 years in your household wants to join the study, we will ask both them and their parent or carer to sign to say they are happy to be in the study. For younger children aged two to nine years, we will just ask their parent or carer to sign, but it is important that the child is also happy about this.

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13. What happens at the appointment?

A nurse or study health worker will visit your home. If you have been asked for a blood sample, it will be a nurse. The nurse and study health worker will use all the recommended precautions to protect you and other people in your home from getting the virus. The nurse or study health worker will then ask everyone who wants to join the study some questions about any symptoms they may have and about any contact with someone who had the coronavirus (COVID-19). They will also ask about gender, ethnicity, date of birth and occupation.

The nurse or study health worker will show you how to take a swab from your nose and throat. This is straightforward and is being done in the drive-through testing centres. Anyone aged 12 years or over can take the swab themselves.

The reason for asking people to swab themselves is to protect nurses or study health workers in case people have COVID-19 and do not know it.

If a parent or carer and child aged 2 to 11 years have consented to take part in the study, a nurse or study health worker will ask the parent or carer to take their own swab before taking the nose and throat swab from the child. The swabs are the same size as used normally for children.

If you are aged 16 years or over, you may also be asked to take part in an optional part of the study. This will involve giving a five millilitre blood sample (about a teaspoonful), which will be taken by a nurse trained to take blood from your vein; this is no different to when you have a blood test at your local GP. When you book your appointment, someone from IQVIA will talk to you about this, but not all households will be invited to take part in this part of the study. You can always change your mind after booking the appointment, including on the day. Children and teenagers aged from 2 to 15 years will only have the nose and throat swabs.

This visit will take 15 to 30 minutes.

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14. Will I be followed up?

You will also be asked whether you would be interested in repeating this visit. This is to see how exposure to the coronavirus (COVID-19) changes over time. You do not have to agree to continue to take part in the study. You could agree to:

A: no further visits

B: further visits every week for one month (five visits in total)

C: further visits every week for one month, and then every month throughout the year after your first study visit (16 visits in total)

If you agreed to give blood the first time, we would like to take blood again every month, but not at weeks one, two or three.

Follow-up visits will take around 15 minutes.

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15. How long will it take?

The first appointment will take around 15 to 30 minutes per person.

If you continue to take part in the study, the appointment will take around 15 minutes per person.

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16. Do I need to prepare anything before the appointment?

Once you have made your appointment over the phone, there is nothing else for you to do. The nurse or study health worker will bring all necessary equipment with them to your home for the appointment. However, should anyone in your home develop coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms before the nurse or study health worker visits, please contact IQVIA.

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17. What will you do with my results?

Positive swab test results will also be shared with the relevant personal data (including name, contact details, postcode and ethnicity) with the relevant public health bodies for referral to national systems (Public Health England for referral to the NHS Test and Trace system, Public Health Wales for referral to the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect system, the Public Health Agency for referral to the HSC Northern Ireland’s Test, Trace, Protect programme and Public Health Scotland for referral to the NHS Scotland Test and Protect system).

We will link information from you in this study to data from the NHS and ONS about your health status, for example, whether you have visited hospital or a GP or had another test for the coronavirus (COVID-19). This is to try to work out what we need to do to keep the NHS going through this pandemic. We will do this for one year after your last visit.

We will only use names and date of birth where this is absolutely necessary to link to your NHS and ONS records. We will use your postcode to try to work out how COVID-19 is spreading around the country. At the point when they are collected in your home, all samples and study records will be identified only by a code for your household and each person in it joining the study, together with month and year of birth and not the actual date of birth.

Information that can identify you will only be held by the ONS and IQVIA for the purposes of the study.

Responsible members of the University of Oxford may be given access to data for monitoring and/or audit of the study, to ensure that the research is complying with applicable regulations.

Please note that if you signed up to take part in the study before 21 July 2020 there has been a small change to the way in which information from participants in the COVID-19 Infection Survey is to be used by the ONS. The ONS intends to link data from the survey to other survey and administrative data sets it holds. This will be beneficial in providing more in-depth analysis, which in turn will enable us to better understand the impact and nature of COVID-19 and answer critical questions to assist public health authorities and policy makers in better responding to the pandemic in the months ahead. This analysis is not part of the Infection Survey itself. Such linkage will continue for as long as there is value for statistical research and analysis.

The ONS may provide access to this data to accredited researchers for accredited research purposes via accredited processing environments, where it is lawful and ethical to do so, and where the research is considered to be in the public good. It will not be possible to identify individuals from this data. Data will only be used for statistical research and analysis purposes and will not be shared with anyone else (other than access by accredited researchers).

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18. What if I or someone in my home has coronavirus (COVID-19) or coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms?

If anyone in your household is currently experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus (COVID-19), self-isolating or shielding, we would still like to make this visit. This is because it is really important to find out how many people with symptoms or who are self-isolating or shielding are infected or exposed to the virus.

If this is the case, we will not take blood from anyone. The nurse or study health worker will not enter the household, and they will pass you the self-swabbing kits while staying at least two metres away from everyone in the household. They will ask the few short questions from this distance.

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19. I currently have confirmed or suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) so do not want to take part, can I take part in the future?

Yes, you can still take part in the future. Please still call IQVIA to let them know, and a nurse or study health worker can arrange to visit you when you are better.

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20. Has the nurse or study health worker been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19)?

All nurses and study health workers are offered routine tests for the coronavirus (COVID-19) before visiting your home. However, it is important to know that people can become infected even after a negative test. All nurses and study health workers will therefore follow the NHS recommendations about the appropriate level of personal protective equipment (PPE) to use.

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21. What will you do with my nose and throat swab and blood sample?

Your nose and throat swab will be tested at one of the Lighthouse Laboratories (at Milton Keynes (the National Biosample Centre) or Glasgow) using the standard test used in the national testing programmes to find out if someone currently has the coronavirus (COVID-19), even if they do not have symptoms.

Your blood sample will be tested by scientists at the University of Oxford. They will look for the levels of antibodies against COVID-19 in your blood.

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22. How long will you keep my nose and throat swab and blood sample for?

The nose and throat swab will be destroyed once the test is done.

We would like to keep any blood that is not used immediately for the antibody test for future research, including for better tests relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19). You do not have to agree to this. Your blood sample will either be used up or destroyed after five years.

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23. What if I change my mind during the study?

Your participation is entirely voluntary. You have the right to withdraw from the study at any time without explanation. This includes after you have arranged an appointment for a nurse or study health worker to visit your home and if you have already given a swab from your nose and throat and a blood sample.

If the tests have already been done when you change your mind, we will still use the data from them because they are very important for our study to get a good picture of who has had the coronavirus (COVID-19) across the UK. But if you no longer wish for any leftover blood to be stored, we will destroy it. You can also decide that you do not want us to get any more information about you from the NHS if you leave the study.

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24. Can I find out my results?

Yes, we will send you your results by letter.

If one of your nose and throat swabs tests positive, as soon as we receive it back from the labs we pass the result onto the national tracing programme (NHS Test and Trace in England, NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect in Wales, the Test and Contact Tracing programme in Northern Ireland and the Test and Protect system in Scotland).

  • They will then call you.
  • This is very likely to be before you get this positive result back from the study. If you are currently having weekly follow-up, the call may even come before you get a negative or failed result back from your previous test because of the timelines described previously – please check the dates that are printed on all the result letters.
  • Please engage fully with the national tracing programme and follow the advice provided, for example, on self-isolation.

It is very important to know that a lot of people who test positive for COVID-19 do not have any symptoms – around half the people in our study. This does not mean the test is wrong. The test we use has a false-positive rate of under 0.005%, meaning fewer than 1 in 20,000 people who are really negative will get a positive test result. People without symptoms can still pass the virus on, so it is very important to follow the advice from the tracing programme.

Otherwise, it will typically take at least a week to get your results back. The COVID-19 Infection Survey is a research study, not a testing programme. We return test results to participants, but tests from the research study are lower priority than tests from the national testing programmes and clinical service. This is because our positivity rates are lower, because we are testing people in the community as part of the surveillance research study, rather than testing people with symptoms or who have had direct contact with cases. Our tests, which are mostly on people without COVID, cannot be prioritised over symptomatic testing, where the percentage positive is much higher and hence from which more positive individuals will be identified overall.

In the research study, it takes a day to get the swab to the labs, then often three to fourdays to do the tests because we are behind the queue of all the symptomatic testing. Results are sent back every morning from the labs to the research study. Once results come back, they are matched to participants via their barcode and letters sent. So it typically takes at least a week before people get results.

It is very important that if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 you follow the guidance on self-isolation relevant to where you live. Even if you have had a recent test done in this survey and have developed symptoms, do not wait for its results before self-isolating. If you have not had a recent test in the survey, please follow the guidance on getting a test for your area.

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25. Will my General Practitioner (GP) or family doctor be informed of my participation?

If you joined the study before 28 September 2020, we will have told your GP that you are in this study, and we will have sent all the results from tests on your nose and throat swabs done before this back to them. GPs will not be told about anyone joining after 28 September, or about any tests done after 28 September.

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26. How else will you use my data?

The ONS will use the data from your nose and throat swab and blood sample, together with other data sources available to the ONS. We will get data on how much you have used the NHS from NHS Digital. NHS Digital is the NHS body that looks after all NHS data. We particularly want to find out how having had the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the past affects how much you need to use the NHS in future. This is to try to work out what we need to do to keep the NHS going through this pandemic.

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27. What else should I consider?

Taking part will not affect the medical care you receive, and there is no effect on any regular medication or other prescribed or over-the-counter medicines you might be taking. It is also fine to take part if you are involved in other research studies.

When blood is taken, there is a possibility of bruising and/or fainting; the nurses or study healthcare workers who will do this are trained to take blood to reduce this risk.

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28. Has this project been ethically reviewed?

Yes, this project has been given approval by South Central – Berkshire B Research Ethics Committee (20/SC/0195).

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29. Confidentiality and data protection

If you have a question about how the ONS processes your personal data or want to find out more about your rights under data protection legislation, please see the ONS' data protection page.

All personal data collected as part of this study will be processed in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018.

We take our responsibilities to keep your personal information secure very seriously. As such, we take every reasonable precaution to ensure your information is protected from loss, theft or misuse. These precautions include appropriate physical security of our offices, controlled access to computer systems and use of secure, encrypted internet connections when collecting personal information.

The University of Oxford and ONS are the joint Data Controllers and are responsible for looking after your information and using it properly.

Data protection regulation requires that we state the legal basis for processing information about you.

In the case of the research, the University of Oxford is carrying out this research as "a task in the public interest". More information is available in their privacy notice.

In the case of the research, the ONS is processing this information as it is necessary for us to perform our official function, which is to produce statistics for the public good. Your information will be treated as confidential as directed by the Code of Practice for Statistics. It will only be held for as long as it is being used for producing statistics. Study information may be provided to other approved organisations or researchers for statistical purposes only.

We will be using information from you and NHS Digital. NHS Digital is the NHS body that looks after all NHS data. To do this study, we will use the minimum personally identifiable information possible.

IQVIA and the ONS will keep identifiable information about you from this study for five years after the study has finished.

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30. Further help

To book an appointment to take part, call IQVIA on the number in the letter that was sent to you.

IQVIA opening times are:
Monday to Thursday – 9:00am to 9:00pm
Friday – 9:00am to 8:00pm
Saturday – 9:00am to 5:00pm
Sunday – 9:00am to 5:00pm

If you have any further questions on the COVID-19 Infection Survey (CIS), you can send an email to COVID-19@ons.gov.uk.

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32. Sharing data with others

We sometimes share selected information with our service providers to help us run our studies. We only share the personal details they need to know. To find out more about each service provider's commitment while they are handling your information, please visit their websites.

In this study, we work with other organisations to provide the following services:

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