Majority of people who test positive for coronavirus are asymptomatic when tested, study finds

She said university students are one group who should be tested regularly, and definitely before they go home for Christmas.

“I think you could seed a lot of new infections around Christmas – you’re indoors, you sit around the table.”

“Hopefully they can get that (testing) up and running before Christmas, I don’t think they should wait until Christmas.”

The researchers also argued for a change in testing strategy.

“Covid-19 symptoms are a poor marker of (Covid) infection,” they wrote in the journal Clinical Epidemiology.

“In order to capture ‘silent’ transmission and potentially prevent future outbreaks, test programmes should involve frequent and widespread [Covid-19] testing of all individuals, not just symptomatic cases, at least in high-risk settings or specific locations.”

Prof Petersen added: “Future testing programmes should involve frequent testing of a wider group of individuals, not just symptomatic cases, especially in high-risk settings or places where many people work or live close together such as meat factories or university halls.”

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, who leads the Covid Symptom Study (CSS) app, said data from more than four million people who used the app and reported symptoms in a week found 85 per cent of adults reported fever, cough or loss of taste/smell.

“But the data on children and the over-65s from the CSS app tell us a different story,” he added.

“Only using the UK’s three classic symptoms will miss around 50 per cent of cases in these important groups that were included in the ONS survey.

“In a sub-study at King’s College London of twins using antibody testing and the ability to report 20 different symptoms, we showed that only 19 per cent of people are truly asymptomatic.

“We need to learn from other countries and improve awareness of all the symptoms of Covid-19 to properly control the spread of the virus.”

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