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About 136,000 people in England currently infected with COVID-19: study

LONDON (Reuters) - Around 136,000 people in England are currently infected with COVID-19, according to early results from the first large-scale study in Britain into the spread of the disease.

A woman wearing a protective face mask and visor walks in Westminster, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Britain’s Office for National Statistics said it estimated that about 0.24%, or one in 400, of England’s population were carrying the disease during the April 26-May 8 survey period.

But there is a wide range of uncertainty around the true number of people infected, which the ONS said could range from 76,000 to 225,000 at a standard 95% confidence interval.

The figures are based on the first 7,000 results from a study covering 25,000 people in 10,000 households chosen at random across England.

Britain’s government is slowly starting to ease coronavirus restrictions - including encouraging more people to return to work - but like many countries has said it needs to ensure this does not accelerate the spread of the disease.

The pilot survey is led by the University of Oxford and the University of Manchester alongside U.S. health data company IQVIA IQV.N and public health laboratories, and will expand over the next year to cover Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Survey participants are being tested weekly for the first five weeks, and monthly thereafter, in order to help track how fast COVID-19 is spreading.

The results only show people who are currently infected with COVID-19, not those who have recovered from the disease.

Some 1.4 million people have been tested since the outbreak of the disease in Britain, of whom 223,000 have tested positive, according to government data.

The ONS survey is also collecting blood samples. These will allow researchers to check if people have antibodies indicating past infection, once suitable tests become available.

Reporting by David Milliken and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison