Tracking the spread

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Project to predict the spread of COVID-19 in the UK, and evaluate the impact of quarantine restrictions.

A pioneering project to predict the spread of COVID-19 in the UK, and evaluate the impact of quarantine restrictions, has received a substantial research grant, it has been announced – but further support is needed.

Dr Leon Danon, from the University of Exeter, has received a grant of £220,403 to develop an essential new tool to forecast where and when the disease will spread across the country.The grant has been awarded as one of 21 new projects, funded by the UK Government, as part of the £24.6 million rapid research response funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).   Dr Danon, a Senior Lecture in Data Analytics within Exeter’s Computer Science department, will adapt and develop new mathematical models of disease spread and movement within the UK. These new models will not only evaluate the impact of control and mitigation strategies - including travel restrictions, border screening and quarantine policies – but crucially also predict where and when the disease will spread.

Dr Danon said: “The goal of this project is to minimise the number of deaths in the UK through mathematical modelling. This work already provides a key piece of evidence for planning of responses to COVID-19 in the UK. The current funding will enable us to work at a quicker pace to predict how the disease will progress up and down the country.

“The aim is to provide up-to-date predictions directly to policy makers, to help prepare hospitals and treatment centres for the upcoming demand and to test mitigation strategies. We will assess and rank the effectiveness of controls, both non-pharmaceutical - such as social distancing - and pharmaceutical (vaccines or antivirals) once they become available.”

Dr Danon’s study is one of 21 new studies into the novel coronavirus, including the first clinical drug trial in primary care, vaccine and therapy development, and studying epidemiology, disease transmission, behavioural interventions and policy approaches to COVID-19.  These projects build on the UK’s world-class expertise and capability in global heath and infectious disease that has already shaped our understanding of the pandemic and is informing measures to tackle it. They support the UK government’s efforts to save lives, protect the vulnerable and support the NHS so it can help those who need it the most.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport said: “The research community’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has been outstanding. In a matter of weeks, researchers have formed projects to develop potential vaccines, repurpose existing drugs and explore the potential for new medicines, and to examine how the virus is transmitted and causes wide variation in symptoms. “Pre-clinical trials of vaccines and clinical trials of drugs are already underway. The pace at which this work has been carried out is tribute to the UK’s world-class research base and its dedication to the fight against this disease.”

The projects will run over a maximum 18-month period, ensuring timely insights into the current epidemic. Jonathan Sheffield, NIHR COVID-19 Research Operations Director, said: "In just a few weeks the UK's health and science communities have risen to the challenges presented by COVID-19 in deeply inspiring ways. Alongside the selfless work being done by our amazing frontline NHS staff, our world-leading research community is also putting its cutting-edge expertise to use in myriad ways.  "Though the studies announced today may vary in theme, they all represent some of the best and brightest scientific research into COVID-19 being done anywhere in the world.”

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