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New study finds Coronavirus transmission highest in households and hospitality 

Published: 15 March 2021

Published today (15 March, 2021), a study from Public Health Wales, which looks at the evidence from mass testing in Merthyr Tydfil and the Cynon Valley, suggests that households are the most significant source of infection, while working in the hospitality sector or visiting the pub are also significant risks.  Smoking or vaping appears to have a small but significant effect on transmission too.

Meanwhile no evidence was found that education settings provide a significant risk of transmission of Coronavirus to adults. Visiting facilities such as supermarkets, restaurant, gyms and leisure centre also did not appear to increase risk of infection

The study takes its findings from the responses to an online questionnaire completed by 199 people with a positive test (cases) and a sample of 2,621 negatives (controls), with questions asked on demographic and social risk factors. These included: age, ethnicity, and occupation, area of residence, people who you share a household with, caring responsibilities, and social interactions in the previous 10 days.

Conducted between 21 November and 20 December 2020, the study focused on risk factors for catching Coronavirus in a community setting rather than risk of serious illness/hospitalisation or death - with 99.6 per cent attending the testing pilot being asymptomatic at the time.  Data was collected during the height of the second wave of the pandemic, in an area that had some of the highest rates of infection in the UK.

The main findings of the report are:

  • In this community, transmission within the household was the highest source of infection.
  • Working in the hospitality sector, and visiting the pub were significant risks but at the time of this study were relatively infrequent exposures, due to restrictions at the time.
  • Smoking or vaping had a small but significant effect on risk of transmission.
  • Working in social or healthcare had an increased risk.
  • In this community, and at this point in the epidemic, reducing transmission from a household contact who is self-isolating would have the biggest public health impact
  • No evidence was found that education settings provided a significant risk of transmission to adults: Working in education, living with someone working in education, or living with school age children were not important risk factors in this study.
  • Visiting facilities such as supermarkets, restaurant, gyms and leisure centre also did not appear to increase risk of infection.

Prof. Daniel Thomas, Consultant Epidemiologist, Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre at Public Health Wales, said: “There is growing evidence that certain population groups are more likely to be affected by severe Coronavirus including older people, males, pregnant women, and people with pre-existing chronic disease or disability. People in certain minority ethnic groups and those in public-facing occupations are also disproportionally affected, but it is unclear whether this is related to increased risk of acquiring Coronavirus or increased risk of severe disease once infected.

“Compared with the evidence that exists for risks associated with hospitalisation and death, limited information is available on the social, demographic and behavioural factors associated with transmission of Coronavirus in the community.

“The conducting of mass testing provides a good opportunity to explore these risks by conducting large-scale epidemiological studies, and, with sufficient sample size, can provide information to help inform and support the ongoing response to the pandemic.

“This study reminds us that while education settings do not appear to present a significant transmission risk for Coronavirus, there is a much greater risk of catching the virus at home, in a hospitality setting, or in the pub.  This reinforces the need to avoid mixing with other households, and sticking to Coronavirus restrictions by working from home if you can, wearing a face covering where required, washing your hands regularly and staying two metres from anyone you do not live with.”

The community mass testing was carried out by Cwm Taff Morgannwg University Health Board (CTMUHB).

Dr Kelechi Nnoaham, Director of Public Health at Cwm Taf Morgannwg, said: “It’s fantastic to see the information gathered from our mass testing programme in Merthyr Tydfil and the Cynon Valley being used to keep people safe all across Wales. We are now running a new Community Testing programme in the Cwm Taf Morgannwg region, open to any resident without symptoms of COVID-19. This will help us to identify and isolate asymptomatic cases and stop the spread of coronavirus in our communities. We encourage people to check their local authority website to find out where they can get tested.”

The Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre (CDSC) is the epidemiological investigation arm of Public Health Wales. It protects the population from infection through surveillance of infectious disease, support for outbreak investigation, provision of health intelligence and applied research.

For the full report, go to: