UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences


COVID-19: UCL academics mobilise to provide critical advice and expert comment

20 April 2020

As coronavirus spreads around the world, UCL experts are taking a prominent role in advancing public knowledge about the virus by advising world leaders, providing expert comment in the media and urgently researching new ways of tackling COVID-19.

Coronavirus experts

A key strength of the UCL community is its ability to work across disciplines and with colleagues, partners and industry to help address the biggest challenges facing the world today.

UCL researchers are working in the vanguard of helping find cure, improving diagnosis and are advising Government here in the UK and globally. In addition, they are helping to inform public knowledge by providing expert comment on issues as varied as predictions on virus spread, panic buying and stockpiling, broadband provision, and the economic and political impact of the pandemic.

Professor Judith Breuer (UCL Division of Infection & Immunity) is advising the Government on the use of viral genomics to help control the outbreak, and Professor Susan Michie (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) is advising the UK government-convened advisory group, the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science (SPI-B): 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID19).

Professor Rachel McKendry (London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL and i-sense) and Professor Ingemar Cox (UCL Computer Science) are leading a team developing rapid tests and tracking systems for COVID-19 in collaboration with the World Health Organization, Public Health England and Africa CDC, while Professor Martina Micheletti (UCL Biochemical Engineering) is working with Oxford colleagues to develop a potential vaccine.

Others at UCL are working on monitoring people who have been tested, predicting the outbreak’s future, and developing digital platforms for community-based care.

Here in UCL in the Media, we feature the work of UCL colleagues who are providing critical advice and expert comment to world leaders and the public on COVID-19 and its impact through numerous appearances on TV, radio, print and online news sources:

  • Keeping study routines a key goal of home-schooling Home-schooling due to Covid-19 is less about maintaining progress in subjects than it is about “encouraging parents to help their children create regular routines and study habits," explains Professor Becky Francis (UCL Institute of Education). (20 April 2020) Read: BBC News
  • Happiness “all about anticipation” As most major events have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Professor Tali Sharot (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) explains that this could have a worrying impact on happiness now that people have very little to look forward to. (16 April 2020) Read: Telegraph (£)
  • Could Covid-19 help end our addiction to flying? As the vast majority of planes are currently grounded, Transport researcher Nicole Badstuber (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering) gives ideas of how the aviation industry’s huge carbon footprint could be reduced once the pandemic is over. (16 April 2020) Read: Guardian
  • Poor areas more susceptible to virus outbreaks "Refugee and minority populations live in poor quality, densely occupied accommodation with insecure working conditions," leading to higher disease risk, explains Honorary Professor Carolyn Stephens (UCL Bartlett School of Planning). (16 April 2020) Read: Mail Online
  • How realistic are pandemic films? Dr Jennifer Rohn (UCL Medicine) and Professor Deenan Pillay (UCL Infection & Immunity) discuss the fictional pandemics in various films and discuss whether they’re realistic with relation to Covid-19. (16 April 2020) Read: Vice
  • What’s next for UK pandemic response? Professor Anthony Costello (UCL Institute for Global Health) discusses potential ways forward for the UK and how to best manage Covid-19 cases whilst also implementing an exit strategy. (16 April 2020) Read: FT, Listen: BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ (from 22 mins 15 secs), Watch: Channel 4 News
  • President Trump “systematically downplayed severity” of Covid-19 pandemic President Donald Trump made a series of missteps in his and his administration’s response to Covid-19 which he is now refusing to take responsibility for, says Dr Brian Klaas (UCL School of European Languages, Culture & Society). (16 April 2020) Listen: BBC Radio 5’s ‘Emma Barnett Show’ (from 2 hours 17 mins)
  • Boris Johnson in hospital Professor Robert Hazell (UCL Constitution Unit) outlines what would happen if the Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to delay returning to office, and the role and powers of Dominic Raab, who leads the government his absence. (16 April 2020) Read: The Conversation
  • How lockdown is lifted “depends on scientific evidence” Whilst there are numerous different ways in which a lockdown could be eased, the path taken by the UK will depend on the scientific evidence at the time, explains Professor Susan Michie ((UCL Psychology & Language Sciences). (07 April 2020) Listen: BBC Radio 5’s ‘Your Call’ (from 41 mins 3 secs), More: BBC Radio 5’s ‘5 Live Breakfast’ (from 2 hours 43 mins 37 secs)
  • Google searches could help show Covid-19 hotspots Searches for coronavirus symptoms including shortness of breath, fever and loss of smell increase in areas where cases of Covid-19 are particularly high, meaning they could help highlight other hotspots, explains Dr Vasileios Lampos (UCL Computer Science). (06 April 2020) Read: New York Times
  • Nightingale hospital “an amazing achievement” The building of the Nightingale hospital in London in less than two weeks is impressive, but not without precedent as military and civilian groups often come together in disaster zones, says Dr Simon Addyman (UCL Bartlett School of Construction & Project Management). (06 April 2020) Read: Guardian
  • Multiple reasons for UK school closures School closures in response to Covid-19 are not only to slow the spread of the virus, but also due to the difficulty of keeping schools open if teachers are ill or parents are keeping children home, says Dr Charlotte Jackson (UCL Institute of Clinical Trials & Methodology). (03 April 2020) Read: Yahoo! NewsMore: MSN News
  • Covid-19 study helps explain why virus is so infectious A study of patients with mild Covid-19 symptoms “helps explain why the virus is so infectious; it can be transmitted by droplets from the upper respiratory tract” before people know that they have an infection, says Professor Rosalind Smyth (UCL GOS Institute of Child Health). (03 April 2020) Read: Channel 4 News
  • British policing during Covid-19 pandemic Professor Colm O'Cinneide (UCL Laws) discusses the British police response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the cultural tradition of policing in Britain and the lighter touch they have than many other European countries. (02 April 2020) Read: New York Times
  • How to clean your jewellery during Covid-19 pandemic Dr Lena Ciric (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering) explains the best method to clean jewellery, and says that simple rings are easier to keep clean than ornate ones as there are less places for “grease, grime and microbes to get into”. (01 April 2020) Read: Times (£)
  • Increased government spending needs a post-Covid-19 plan Increased spending may help keep the economy afloat in the short-term, but a longer term plan is needed to deal with the increase in debt once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, warns Simone Gasperin (UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose) in a letter to the FT. (01 April 2020) Read: FT (£)
  • Drug policy and coronavirus Those using drugs problematically need support during the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, as they are amongst the most vulnerable members of society, argues a letter to the Times signed by Honorary Clinical Reader Dr Adam Winstock (UCL Epidemiology & Health). (30 March 2020) Read: Times (£)
  • Estate agents likely badly affected by Covid-19 A slowdown in the housing market due to Covid-19 would impact the estate agent market as well “unless they can access government help for businesses quickly to sustain themselves,” says Honorary Professor Noble Francis (UCL Bartlett School of Construction & Project Management). (27 March 2020) Read: Guardian
  • Be cautious using self-checkouts during Covid-19 pandemic Supermarket self-checkouts are likely to be hotspots for Covid-19 coronavirus due to the amount of people using them, and you should wash your hands before unpacking your shopping once you’ve used one, says Dr Lena Ciric (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering). (25 March 2020) Read: Times (£)
  • How to cope with children under lockdown With children off school and under lockdown, parents should cut themselves some slack on ways of coping, including relaxing rules on screen time as “we all need to get through this period, and we all need to stay sane,” says Dr Alice Bradbury (UCL Institute of Education). (24 March 2020) Read: GraziaMore: MSN News
  • Preventing and containing Covid-19 outbreaks in prisons Reducing Covid-19 coronavirus spread by “moving the most vulnerable prisoners to less-crowded parts of the prison system, where outbreaks are easier to prevent and contain…could save many lives,” Explains Professor Andrew Hayward (UCL Epidemiology & Health). (23 March 2020) Read: Guardian
  • Coronavirus shows holes in UK pandemic planning  The density of London’s population could prove a challenge for any potential lockdown, and the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is showing the holes in current UK pandemic planning, Explains Professor David Alexander (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction). (23 March 2020) Read: Telegraph (£)
  • Don’t overburden children during Covid-19 isolation Parents should resist the urge to over-educate their children whilst schools are closed, instead making sure to encourage them to pursue their interests and hobbies as well as completing set school work, says Dr Sandra Leaton Gray (UCL Institute of Education). (23 March 2020) Read: Times (£)
  • Government economic response needs to go further The Government response to Covid-19 doesn’t go far enough to stop an economic collapse, with self-employed workers needing support and universal credit unable to cope with new demand, argues a letter signed by Laurie Macfarlane (UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose). (23 March 2020) Read: Times (£)
  • How to care for homeless with coronavirus Agencies should stop bringing homeless people into shared spaces, instead supporting them on the street and opening places where they can be tested for symptoms, explains Professor Andrew Hayward (UCL Epidemiology & Health). (20 March 2020) Read: New Statesman
  • Take control of what you can to minimise coronavirus risk Dr Guy Harling (UCL Institute for Global Health) answers listener questions on Covid-19 coronavirus, giving advice on how to minimise risk of catching the disease and spreading it to others. (20 March 2020) Listen: BBC Radio 5’s ‘Nihal Arthanayake Show’ (from 16 mins 13 secs)
  • Is social shaming needed to stop gatherings during Covid-19 pandemic? Dr Hannah Knox discusses the idea that shaming those who continue to gather by friends and family could be needed to help prevent social gatherings and stop the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus. (18 March 2020) Listen: BBC Radio 5’s ‘Emma Barnett Show’ (from 47 mins 33 secs)
  • Covid-19 smartphone app may not be as simple as it seems Dr Hannah Fry (UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis) explains the pitfalls of an app which monitors Covid-19 coronavirus, saying “It's not as simple as 'Have you crossed paths with someone who has the virus.' You can sit within a few meters of someone and not be at risk.” (18 March 2020) Read: Mail Online
  • Government communication during the Covid-19 pandemic Professor Robert West (UCL Epidemiology & Health) discusses the effectiveness of the government’s current communication strategy relating to the Covid-19 coronavirus and the important of clear and open information. (17 March 2020) Listen: BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ (from 31 mins 30 secs)
  • COVID-19 outbreak classified as pandemic Oksana Pyzik (UCL School of Pharmacy) says the term pandemic 'should not be taken lightly', while also telling LBC that homemade hand sanitiser is unlikely to be effective. (12 March 2020) Listen: BBC Radio 5 news (from 31 mins 48 secs), More: LBC, Watch: BBC News (World)
  • Coronavirus measures need buy-in of whole population Measures to contain COVID-19 coronavirus will only be effective when the majority of the population adhere to them, so "You need to carry the population with you," when introducing new strategies, explains Professor Susan Michie (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences). (11 March 2020) Read: Mail Online, More: Yahoo! News, Listen: BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ (from 19 mins 15 secs), BBC World Service 'Newshour' (from 47 mins 57 secs), Watch: BBC 2's 'The Andrew Neil Show' (From 9 mins 5 secs) 
  • Coronavirus “likely to be here to stay” COVID-19 coronavirus is likely to remain in the population in the long-term, but fatalities are expected to go down as an increasing proportion of the population builds up immunity to the virus, explains Professor Francois Balloux (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment). (9 March 2020) Read: Telegraph (£) 
  • UK not prepared for a pandemic Public Health England would be overrun if the COVID-19 coronavirus reached pandemic levels, especially as most factories for crucial supplies are in China or Southeast Asia, explains Dr Gordon Woo (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction). (17 February 2020) Read: Times (£) 
  • Coronavirus not far off becoming a pandemic “The 2019-nCov coronavirus outbreak has already surpassed its cousin Sars in terms of the number of cases confirmed,” explains Dr Jennifer Rohn (UCL Medicine) who argues the outbreak is close to being declared a pandemic. (5 February 2020) Read: Guardian 
  • Coronavirus prevention must learn SARS lessons “Several unique opportunities to perform studies and evaluations of a range of therapeutic and preventive interventions at the peak of the SARS and MERS outbreaks were lost due to delays,” explains Professor Ali Zumla (UCL Infection & Immunity). (30 January 2020) Read: Globe & Mail 



  • Top row (l-r): Professor Martina Micheletti, Professor David Alexander, Dr Jennifer Rohn, Professor Francois Balloux, Professor Rachel McKendry, Professor Judith Breuer. Middle row (l-r): Professor Susan Michie, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Professor Christina Pagel, Professor Helene Joffe, Professor Rose Luckin, Dr Brian Klaas. Bottom row (l-r): Dr Hannah Fry, Professor Kate Jones, Professor David Lomas, Professor Rebecca Shipley, Professor Anthony Costello, Professor Dame Anne Johnson