UK’s official statisticians had considerations over covid-19 survey bias

The ONS survey tracks the prevalence of covid-19 in components of the UK

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The UK’s Workplace for Nationwide Statistics (ONS) privately mentioned considerations in regards to the danger of its flagship covid-19 an infection survey providing a biased image of the nation’s epidemic, based on paperwork from between Could and July.

The survey is taken into account top-of-the-line insights into the prevalence of the illness, because it samples random households within the UK’s 4 nations. Nevertheless, New Scientist has beforehand reported that the response price has fallen because the survey has expanded.

Of the households in England invited to participate, the response price dropped from 51 per cent in April to five per cent in October, elevating fears that if solely a sure group of individuals have been finishing the survey, it might grow to be much less consultant of covid-19’s actual prevalence locally. In October, the ONS advised New Scientist that the survey was weighted and continued to supply dependable estimates of the virus’s unfold.


Now paperwork launched underneath freedom of knowledge guidelines present that the federal government physique was sufficiently involved in regards to the danger of bias from falling response charges that it mentioned motion to handle the problem.

“Lockdown has eased and public consideration has begun to shift onto returning to work and ‘the brand new regular’. Inside this context, each family response charges and the common variety of respondents in a family have fallen, growing the danger of non-response bias,” says an annex to the contract between the ONS and IQVIA, its contractor for the survey.

The annex discusses the necessity for motion to reverse the falling response price and cut back the bias from failures by households to reply. “Significantly concerned with instant fast wins,” its says. Conferences between ONS and IQVIA have been proposed for late July and August to debate measures similar to nudge letters and texts, given what officers referred to as “the urgency” of the matter.

Contacted by New Scientist in regards to the paperwork, the ONS mentioned just some preliminary work was undertaken as a result of the dangers didn’t materialise, as proven by an October goal of 150,000 distinctive fortnightly exams being reached early. After reaching a low of 5 per cent in October, the response price has climbed in England to 12 per cent by 11 December.

That’s nonetheless exceptionally low for an ONS survey, as response charges ideally hit larger than 80 per cent, says Sheila Fowl on the College of Cambridge. She says the survey is a “big enterprise” however the ONS needs to be “so much clearer” about how it’s addressing the hazard of bias when reweighting outcomes to make them replicate the broader inhabitants.

Elsewhere, the paperwork record key efficiency indicators for IQVIA, together with “time to guide appointments”, “completion of booked appointments” and missed calls being returned inside one working day.

However individuals collaborating within the survey deluged IQVIA with complaints in September and October, with members unable to get by means of to name centres, calls not being returned and no-shows for booked appointments. These points seem to have continued into November and December, with individuals taking to social media to report ongoing issues contacting IQVIA and missed appointments.

The ONS mentioned the survey continued to offer dependable estimates of the epidemic. “The Coronavirus Infections Survey has met or exceeded all of its key efficiency targets and stays a significant supply of well timed knowledge on Covid-19 infections and antibodies throughout the UK,” it mentioned in an announcement.

The paperwork additionally reveal when the ONS forecasts its survey might be rendered pointless because the nation’s epidemic recedes. Tables present the physique expects to have zero distinctive topics per fortnight by March 2022, two years after the survey started.

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