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Meet the Queen Mary academics leading the debate on Covid-19 policy

Our academics have expertise in a number of key areas relating to the coronavirus crisis, its implications, the strategy and its data. From social distancing to healthcare provisions, they have shared their analysis and advice.

6 April 2020


The UK is over a fortnight into lockdown, and as the government’s response around COVID-19 policy has continued to evolve, so has the debate on everything from testing regimes to the government’s overall coronavirus strategy.

Queen Mary academics have been quoted extensively on the fight against coronavirus. They have produced vital information and analysis on everything from non-pharmaceutical interventions on the course of the epidemic to biases in testing. Here we take a look at some of the voices leading the way in the debate.

Government strategy 

Professor David McCoy from the Blizard Institute has examined whether the government’s strategy to combat COVID-19 has been the right one. In a piece on our website, Professor McCoy assesses this strategy based on three key response areas: dealing with the disease, managing the health system and planning for the social and economic impacts of the pandemic. Pointing out that “a coherent scientific and moral debate about current plans” has been difficult, Professor McCoy holds the government to account over still-existing gaps in each key area.

He has also appeared on Newsnight to discuss potential omissions from the government’s strategy.

Social distancing

The effectiveness of interventions like social distancing has been an area of particular contention. Dr Rob Knell, reader in evolutionary ecology at Queen Mary, and Dr Axel Rossberg, reader in theoretical ecology, have conducted research into factors such as social distancing on how long the coronavirus crisis will last for and its severity. In the MailOnline, Dr Knell explains how timing could be vital in suppressing the pandemic. His findings are based on a new modelling approach that looks at the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions and public compliance.

Preparing for the pandemic

Could this crisis have been prevented? According to Professor Sophie Harman, Professor of International Politics with the School of Politics and International Relations, the evidence suggests so. Her opinion piece in the New Statesman explains that although it is not always possible to predict a virus’ form or origins, healthcare systems around the world did have the tools to “prepare, identify, and respond to the threat of destructive pandemics” – and these were largely ignored. Professor Harman also recorded a video in collaboration with the Mile End Institute, discussing the role of the World Health Organisation in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.

Biases in testing

Throughout the crisis, media outlets have compared the impact of the pandemic across countries. However, a group of Queen Mary researchers suggest biases in testing may be leading to inaccurate numbers. Dr Magda Osman, Reader in Experimental Psychology, with the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Professor Norman Fenton, Professor of Computer Science, Professor Martin Neil, Professor of Computer Science and Statistics, and Mr Scott Mclachlan, Postdoctoral Research Assistant, with the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science, co-wrote an opinion piece for The Conversation. Using a causal model, the team explain that biases in testing don’t give a precise picture, and that random testing would be the most effective way of getting accurate statistics.

Helping the most vulnerable

With so much of the NHS’ resources dedicated to fighting coronavirus, an emergency programme to train community health workers could ease the pressure and provide a vital service to vulnerable members of the community. In The Lancet, Professor Anita Berlin, Professor of Primary Care Education at Queen Mary, was among a team of researchers to propose that an online-based learning programme could be used. This training would carry lower risk while enabling basic assessments, and provide support for widespread testing and community follow-up for COVID-19, as well as potentially being a long-term model of care in the UK. 

 

Find out more about Queen Mary’s research into coronavirus, and read our updates for students and staff.