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

3 July 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:

  • How students will learn post-Covid University teaching after the Covid-19 pandemic should blend online delivery methods with face-to-face group discussions, says Professor Allison Littlejohn (UCL Institute of Education) in a panel discussion on post-pandemic learning. (3 July 2020) Read: Guardian
  • Coronavirus is a multi-system disease Senior Teaching Fellow Oksana Pyzik (UCL School of Pharmacy) answers questions about the long-term health effects of Covid-19 and explains “we do have to learn how to co-exist with the virus until a vaccine is developed”. (3 July 2020) Watch: Bloomberg
  • Covid support kit for rare dementia sufferers An article written by academics from UCL’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology explains how UCL’s Rare Dementia Support Service has launched a Covid-19 emergency kit with increased call support and virtual buddying, following an increase in calls to the service during lockdown. (3 July 2020) Read: BMJ
  • Schools to scrap social distancing in September With schools set to reopen in September without social distancing measures in place, SAGE member and Honorary Lecturer Dr Gavin Morgan (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) suggests the UK Government run an information campaign to earn the trust of parents and teachers. (26 June 2020) Read: Telegraph (£)

  • Why schools should invest in teachers’ wellbeing now PhD student Julia Manning (UCL Computer Science), who researches digital solutions for stress management in the context of secondary schools, describes the risks of the Covid-19 crisis to teachers’ mental health and how school leaders ought to invest in teacher wellbeing. (26 June 2020) Read: TES

  • Is ‘1 metre plus’ enough to stop Covid spread? Commenting on the relaxation of England’s social distancing rules to one metre plus one mitigating measure, Dr Zeshan Qureshi (UCL Institute of Global Health) says the reduction is still a concern as it is most likely to take place in high risk areas, such as pubs and bars. (24 June 2020) Read: ITV News
  • Covid-19 vaccine may not work for at-risk older people In a discussion on whether young people should be vaccinated against Covid-19 to protect their elderly relatives, Professor Arne Akbar (UCL Infection & Immunity) explains how older patients might require a combination of treatments to protect from the virus. (24 June 2020) Read: Guardian
  • Weighing up the benefits and pitfalls of wearing masks Incorrect use, reduced public perception of Covid-19 risk and environmental concerns are drawbacks that could follow the introduction of masks as a public health measure. Dr Olga Perski (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health) explains some possible pitfalls of the rule. (24 June 2020) Read: Metro
  • How far is far enough to prevent the spread of Covid-19? As England prepares to ease social distancing measures aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19, Associate Professor Lena Ciric (UCL Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering) discusses some of the factors in deciding how far we should be distancing to minimise transmission. (24 June 2020) Read: Mirror
  • Minimising the impact of a coronavirus second wave With infection rates increasing around the world, health providers are looking at ways a second wave of the virus can be avoided. Professor Karl Friston (UCL Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging) explains that our memory of the first wave should make the second wave less severe. (24 June 2020) Read: Daily Star
  • Room for improvement: first NHS Test and Trace figures released Figures from the NHS’s contact tracing program found that more than 30% of those who tested positive for Covid-19 were not reached. Experts agree the system is not perfect however, Professor Anne Johnson (UCL Infection & Immunity) says the program is still “off to a good start”. (24 June 2020) Read: BMJ
  • Virus 'no respecter of national borders' As Covid-19 cases rise elsewhere in the world, Professor Sarah Hawkes (UCL Institute for Global Health) discusses the pandemic and reminds listeners that “this is a global virus that is no respecter of national borders.” (23 June 2020) Read: BBC News

  • Is a loss of biodiversity responsible for Covid-19? Prince Charles’ view that epidemics may be linked to the “encroachment of man” on habitats “falls under the ‘plausible theory/hypothesis’ range,” rather than being a certainty, says Dr Amitava Banerjee (UCL Health Informatics). (17 June 2020) Read: Express

  • School closures may undo years of social mobility As school closures come under scrutiny, research from UCL and the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) is mentioned as having surveyed over 4000 parents. The survey found that children from affluent households received more attention and supervision than poorer families. (11 June 2020) Read: Mail Online

  • Should I wear a face mask when I exercise? Amidst concerns about professional athletes’ safety when resuming sports, Honorary Lecturer Dr Ben Killingley (UCL Institute of Global Health) explains that there is no reason to recommend wearing face masks for sports which respect social distancing. (10 June 2020) Read: Telegraph (£)

  • Can thermal cameras help spot coronavirus? As the ability of thermal cameras to detect signs of Covid-19 is questioned, Professor Derek Hill (UCL Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering) explains that these devices are less accurate than medical digital thermometers. (9 June 2020) Read: BBC News

  • Coronavirus is changing digital etiquette On the subject of how human behaviour has changed during the pandemic, Professor Anna Cox (UCL Interaction Centre) offers advice on how best to make online meetings and social gatherings run smoothly, and how personal devices can create mental boundaries. (9 June 2020) Read: New York Times (£)

  • Mapping the pandemic - in pictures Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) devices developed by Professor Rebecca Shipley, Professor Tim Baker (both UCL Mechanical Engineering) and Professor Mervyn Singer (UCL Medicine) working with Mercedes-AMG HPP and UCLH are shown in a feature mapping the Covid-19 pandemic. (8 June 2020) Read: Guardian

  • Covid-19 is not the last pandemic As researchers unveil a new pattern-recognition system to see which wildlife diseases are infectious toward humans, Professor Kate Jones (UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research) says manmade environments can bring humans and animals closer, increasing infection risks. (8 June 2020) Read: BBC News

  • How close are we to defeating Covid-19? Professor Dame Anne Johnson (UCL Infection & Immunity) joins a discussion on Covid-19 efforts and describes how virus testing has improved significantly over the recent months, as mathematical models, virus tests and antibody tests are helping track the spread of cases. (8 June 2020) Read: GuardianYahoo! News

  • Coronavirus is changing digital etiquette On the subject of how human behaviour has changed during the pandemic, Professor Anna Cox (UCL Interaction Centre) offers advice on how best to make online meetings and social gatherings run smoothly, and how personal devices can create mental boundaries. (9 June 2020) Read: New York Times (£)

  • Can thermal cameras help spot coronavirus? As the ability of thermal cameras to detect signs of Covid-19 is questioned, Professor Derek Hill (UCL Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering) explains that these devices are less accurate than medical digital thermometers. (9 June 2020) Read: BBC News

  • Covid-19’s impact on the brain As research published in JAMA suggests that a specific protein in the brain could allow Covid-19 to infect cells in the central nervous system, Dr Michael Zandi (UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology) queries what the neurological symptoms of the virus could be on the brain. (4 June 2020) Read: Channel 4 News

  • Is now the right time to ease the lockdown? Professor Deenan Pillay (UCL Infection & Immunity) explains the necessity of having a working Test, Track and Trace (TTI) programme in place when a lockdown is lifted, and answers questions about the possibility of a second peak of Covid-19 cases. (2 June 2020) Watch: Channel 4 News

  • Are women the stronger sex? In a discussion on the differences between male and female immune systems, Professor Sarah Hawkes (UCL Institute for Global Health) explains that variations between them are not just biological, and that lifestyle choices are factors as well. (12 May 2020) Read: Mirror

  • Intensive care work is brutal, but you can help Describing his recent experiences caring for patients with Covid-19, Professor Hugh Montgomery (UCL Medicine), highlights the huge strain he and his colleagues are under and calls for more dedicated support and education for intensive care staff. (11 May 2020) Read: Guardian

  • Not all face masks are equal With more people now opting to wear face masks, Professor Mark Miodownik (UCL Mechanical Engineering), explains that reusable face masks are important to cut down on the environmental impact of plastic waste. (11 May 2020) Read: GuardianMore: MSN News

  • We have lost sight of Covid-19’s moderate effects Dr Amitava Banerjee (UCL Institute of Health Informatics) comments on how the media has focussed on the deadly impact of coronavirus, not taking into account the indirect costs such as rising domestic violence rates, mental health problems and the lack of access to healthcare. (7 May 2020) Read: BBC News

  • Why is the UK Coronavirus death toll so high? Professor Ilan Kelman (UCL Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction) says that the UK death and infection rates for Covid-19 aren’t down to one single cause, but that the underfunding of the NHS and the high population density of much of the UK are both contributing factors. (6 May 2020) Read: The National (UAE)
  • Facemasks may not help stem Covid-19 tide Professor Susan Michie (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) and Professor Robert West (UCL Epidemiology & Health) warn that facemasks may not help protect against Covid-19 and that wearing them may lead people to adhere less strictly to social distancing behaviour. (01 May 2020) Read: Yahoo! News
  • Covid-19 not the only potential issue to society While Covid-19 is the priority, we also need to prepare for events such as heatwaves, floods & power cuts, which all occurred last Summer, to ensure our “emergency services are not bogged down" says Dr Gianluca Pescaroli (UCL Institute of Risk & Disaster Reduction). (28 April 2020) Read: Huffington Post
  • Madagascan herbal ‘cure’ for Covid-19 dangerous A supposed herbal cure for Covid-19 being recommended by Madagascar’s president is dangerous because it gives people a false sense of security in a country with limited capacity to deal with the virus, explains Dr Brian Klaas (UCL School of European Language, Culture & Society). (23 April 2020) Read: BBC News
  • After Coronavirus A comprehensive Green New Deal and adequate investment in our health and social care, could help restore local jobs, benefit society and be effective in the fight against environmental breakdown, writes Dr Peter JS Jones (UCL Geography) about life after Covid-19. (22 April 2020) Read: The Ecologist
  • Masks used improperly give false sense of safety Prof Susan Michie (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences) warns of a “false assurance” as the results of survey reveal more people want the use of masks to be increased in public, but wearing them improperly may lead to a laxity in social distancing behaviour. (20 April 2020) Read: Telegraph (£)
  • 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 aboutencouraging 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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! News, More: MSN News
  • 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
  • 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: Grazia, More: 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
  • 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
  • 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 

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  • 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