I’ve just received the results my Covid test: negative. Not that I was worried as I haven’t really felt ill. I was invited for a test as part of a research programme by Kings College Hospital and the NHS tracking the prevalence of the virus in the population as a whole.
Since 25th March I’ve been using the Covid-19 Symptom-tracker app to submit a daily report on whether “I feel physically normal” or “I’m not feeling quite right”. I’m one of 2.4m people taking part in the UK.
One day this week I wasn’t quite feeling right – a headache and tummy ache. I thought this was probably due to a sleepless night, thanks to eldest teenager deciding to go for a bike ride without any lights at 2.30am. I woke up to the sound him leaving the house – and never got back to sleep. He got home fine, by the way.
Nevertheless I submitted my symptoms and the next day received an email inviting me to go for a test, which I did at the drive-in testing centre in Brixton.
It was all very well organised, with army personnel passing the test kit through the car window and guiding me through the process by mobile phone. From arrival to completion it took about 15 minutes. It would have been quicker, but I was more nervous than I’d thought and in my slightly stressed state had left my reading glasses at home, so it was a challenge to read the instructions on the testing kit.
The physical process of swabbing – scraping your tonsils for 10-15 seconds with something resembling a long cotton wool bud, and then doing the same up your nose – is unpleasant and made me gag and my eyes stream. But hey ho.
Two days later and the result has been emailed and texted to me and I’ve submitted that information via the app.
By combining data like this and the swab testing results, researchers are able to calculate the daily number of new cases in the community. On 22nd May they published a figure of 9,900 daily new cases (based on data collected 2-15 May). This is understandably higher than the official figures for this period, which ranged between 6,111 and minus 525, because it combines actual test results with symptom tracking.
Unlike the much-mentioned R figure for reproductive rate of the infection, which is three-four weeks behind the the spread of the virus because it is calculated backwards from current death rates, the Covid-19 Symptom tracker study provides a more current picture of how the situation is changing, including regional differences.
According to their data, daily new cases in London and the South in the first half of May were down as low as 71 (in the South West) and 88 (in London), but as high as 412 in the North West and 310 in the Midlands.
A falling rate of daily infection is one of the five tests the government has set to determine when lockdown should be lifted further. Already, there is more traffic on the roads, even more people in the parks and more are planning to go back to work.
We have taken advantage of the relaxing of exercise guidelines with two trips out of London – one to the seaside and another to a country park, where we saw my sister-in-law for the first time in many months and were able to deliver to her a belated Mother’s Day present from her daughter (whose partner had left it on our doorstep).
On both occasions, crowds weren’t unmanageable and people were easily able to stay 2m apart. It was wonderful to meet up, to see a wider horizon, to hear the sound of the sea. Will more of this be possible? Or will the relaxed rules lead to a resurgence of infections? It’s two weeks since Boris’s statement to the nation removed the instruction to ‘Stay at Home’. The data gathered from tests, tracking, and deaths over the next week or so will tell.