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Impact of baseline cases of cough and fever on UK COVID-19 diagnostic testing rates: estimates from the Bug Watch community cohort study

Lay Summary

Background: Diagnostic testing forms a major part of the UK’s response to the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic with tests offered to anyone with a continuous cough, high temperature or anosmia. Testing capacity must be sufficient during the winter respiratory season when levels of cough and fever are high due to non-COVID-19 causes. This study aims to make predictions about the contribution of baseline cough or fever to future testing demand in the UK. Methods: In this analysis of the Bug Watch community cohort study, we estimated the incidence of cough or fever in England in 2018-2019. We then estimated the COVID-19 diagnostic testing rates required in the UK for baseline cough or fever cases for the period July 2020-June 2021. This was explored for different rates of the population requesting tests, four COVID-19 second wave scenarios and high and low baseline cough or fever incidence scenarios. Results: Under the high baseline cough or fever scenario, incidence in the UK is expected to rise rapidly from 250,708 (95%CI 181,095 - 347,080) cases per day in September to a peak of 444,660 (95%CI 353,084 - 559,988) in December. If 80% of these cases request tests, testing demand would exceed 1.4 million tests per week for five consecutive months. Demand was significantly lower in the low cough or fever incidence scenario, with 129,115 (95%CI 111,596 - 151,679) tests per day in January 2021, compared to 340,921 (95%CI 276,039 - 424,491) tests per day in the higher incidence scenario. Conclusions: Our results show that national COVID-19 testing demand is highly dependent on background cough or fever incidence. This study highlights that the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic must ensure that a high proportion of people with symptoms request tests, and that testing capacity is sufficient to meet the high predicted demand.


Eyre MT, Burns R, Kirkby V, Smith C, Denaxas S, Nguyen V, Hayward A, Shallcross L, Fragaszy E, Aldridge RW.

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