COVID-19: how our research is supporting the global effort
Our cross-disciplinary team is currently involved in many different aspects of COVID-19 related research. We are engaging in research to understand the impact of the pandemic on population health and inequalities in collaboration with key partners, including Public Health Scotland. We are also providing advice and expert commentary to leaders, practitioners and the media.
These webpages provide a summary of our activities relating to COVID-19, including research projects, publications, resources and podcasts.
- Ethnic and socioeconomic differences in SARS-CoV-2 infection: prospective cohort study using UK Biobank (published in BMC Medicine). This study found that black and south Asian ethnic groups have a higher risk of testing positive with SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19. These groups were also at a higher risk of testing positive while attending hospital, suggesting they were also at greater risk of severe disease from the virus. This higher risk was not accounted for by differences in socioeconomic conditions, self-reported health or behavioural risk factors.
- Mitigating the wider health effects of Covid-19 pandemic response (published in the BMJ). Health inequalities are likely to widen without action to support those most vulnerable to the effects of social distancing measures. These effects have numerous mechanisms, including economic, social, health related behaviours, and disruption to services and education.
- Vitamin D concentrations and COVID-19 infection in UK Biobank (published in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews). The findings do not support a potential link between vitamin D concentrations and risk of COVID-19 infection, nor that vitamin D concentration may explain ethnic differences in COVID-19 infection.
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups in England are at increased risk of death from COVID-19: indirect standardisation of NHS mortality data (published in Wellcome Open Research). The analysis adds to evidence that BAME people are at increased risk of death from COVID-19 even after adjusting for geographical region, but was limited by the lack of data on deaths outside of NHS settings and ethnicity denominator data being based on the 2011 census. Despite these limitations, there is an urgent need to take action to reduce the risk of death for BAME groups and better understand why some ethnic groups experience greater risk.
- BMI and future risk for COVID-19 infection and death across sex, age and ethnicity: Preliminary findings from UK Biobank (published in Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews). BMI was associated strongly with positive test, and risk of death related to COVID-19. Obesity was more strongly linked to COVID-19-related deaths in younger people and non-white ethnicities.
- Mental health and health behaviours before and during the initial phase of the COVID-19 lockdown: longitudinal analyses of the UK Household Longitudinal Study (published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health). During the UK coronavirus 'lockdown', smoking declined, but adverse alcohol use generally increased. The study also found that psychological distress markedly increased during the first month of lockdown, with women and younger people particularly adversely affected.
- Official report from Social & System Recovery - Environment and Spaces Group published by Public Health Scotland explores the change in use of green and open space following the COVID-19 lockdown.
- Occupation and risk of severe COVID-19: prospective cohort study of 120,075 UK Biobank participants (published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine). Healthcare workers are seven times as likely to have severe COVID-19 infection as those with other types of ‘non-essential’ jobs. The study found those with jobs in the social care and transport sectors are twice as likely to have severe COVID-19, emphasising the need to ensure that key workers are adequately protected against the infection.
- Modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for COVID-19, and comparison to risk factors for influenza and pneumonia: results from a UK Biobank prospective cohort study (published in BMJ Open). Findings suggest that modification of lifestyle may help to reduce the risk of COVID-19 and could be a useful adjunct to other interventions, such as social distancing and shielding of high risk.
- Correspondence to the EJPC in response to position paper by Ambrosetti M et al. 2020: Cardiovascular rehabilitation and COVID-19: The need to maintain access to evidence-based services from the safety of home (published in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology).
- Impact of COVID-19 restrictions on pre-school children’s eating, activity and sleep behaviours: a qualitative study (pre-print). Children’s activity, screen time, eating, and sleep routines had some level of disruption during COVID-19 restrictions. Parents reported children ate more snacks during lockdown, but also spent more time preparing meals and eating as a family. Most parents reported a reduction in their children’s physical activity and an increase in screen time, which some linked to difficulties in getting their child to sleep.
- Exploring the effectiveness of a COVID-19 contact tracing app using an agent-based model (published in Scientific Reports). Findings suggest that COVID-19 smartphone apps can contribute to epidemic mitigation at any adoption level, but their efficacy strongly depends on the availability of testing and testing policy. The model also suggests that digital contact tracing is more effective when the virus circulates the most, i.e. when lockdown restrictions are relaxed.
- The inverse care law in critical care during the COVID-19 pandemic (commentary published in The Lancet Regional Health-Europe).
- Exploring Inequalities in COVID-19 in Scotland. Vittal Katikireddi (lead), Kirsten Hainey, Paul Henery.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, research in England has identified certain groups in the population, who have been more adversely affected by Covid-19, both in the risk of infection and the risk of severe illness and death. Individuals in minority ethnic groups and those living in more deprived areas have been identified as at higher risk of Covid-19. The evidence of such patterns in Scotland is limited, but more research is required. Our research aims to explore the risk of Covid-19 in these groups in the Scottish population. The findings of our research will be used to inform healthcare planning and policy in Scotland.
- Impact of school closures on socioeconomic inequalities in children's wellbeing and development, led by Peter Craig.
Over 100 countries, including the UK, have closed schools as part of their social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic. A possibly severe unintended consequence of school closures is a widening of educational inequalities, with implications for health inequalities down the line. Research in countries with a long summer break suggests that differential attainment losses account for a substantial fraction of total educational inequalities. Although UK schools have a relatively short summer holiday, the COVID-19 related closures will lead to (at least) a 3-4 month break from classroom teaching for most children, and the possibility of further disruption after that.
A range of surveys in the UK have reported widely varying levels of support for home schooling between pupils at private and publicly-funded schools, and between schools within the public sector.
The suspension of much education testing and survey fieldwork will make impacts difficult to measure directly, but it may be possible to get useful insights into possible consequences from existing data. Our study includes (1) a rapid scoping review of the international evidence of differential attainment loss; (2) analysis of cognitive and social development measures for 5, 7, 11 and 13 year olds in the Millennium Cohort Study to identify whether disparities (e.g. by parental income or education) widen between the last month prior to the summer break and the first month after, and whether the pattern changes as children get older.
Impacts of restricted pre-school childcare availability, led by Michael Green.
This project aims to anticipate impacts of restricted access to pre-school childcare on various outcomes including child well-being, school readiness, and BMI. Using data from the Millennium Cohort study taken at ages 9 months and 3 years, we will assess how impacts may vary with different durations of restricted access. Importantly, we aim to estimate the impact of restricted childcare availability on inequalities in outcomes by baseline parental education, and lone parenting status.
Impact of reducing direct social contact on loneliness and depression among older people, led by Michael Green.
Using data from the 8th wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging, this project will (1) estimate impacts of reducing direct, in-person social contact on loneliness and depression among older people, (2) estimate impacts of increasing remote (e.g. phone, internet) social contact on loneliness and depression among older people, and (3) estimate impacts of above on inequalities in loneliness and depression by education, partner status and wealth.
- An equity focused rapid review of the epidemiology of COVID-19, Vittal Katikireddi (lead), Hilary Thomson, Valerie Wells, Evangelia Demou.
This is a collaborative project to conduct a rapid systematic review to assess the available epidemiological evidence on social factors that predict developing developing SARS-CoV2 and the prognosis of COVID-19 disease in those affected. The review will search for evidence from published and unpublished sources, including archives of pre-prints. We will select evidence on the exposures within the PROGRESS-Plus framework, this includes, residency status (migrant workers and homeless), race/ethnicity, occupation, religion, education, socio-economic status, pregnancy and substance mis-use.
Protocol is available on this website, this includes details of inclusion criteria, searches etc.
- How has COVID-19, and the restrictions on movement in the UK, affected use of green space? Hannah Burnett (lead), Rich Mitchell, Jonathan Olsen.
This project aims to explore if, and how, the UK population changed their green space use following restrictions on movement on 23rd March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from 2,252 respondents were collected by an online survey administered by YouGov (from 30th April-1st May 2020). We asked participants about: 1) the frequency of green space visitations before and since restrictions; 2) whether visits increased or decreased following restrictions; 3) how their experiences of green space have changed (for example, increased physical activity, or loss of social interaction); and 4) reasons why they may not visited green space since restrictions. Demographic characteristics were also obtained (including sex, age, social grade, health conditions and ethnicity).
- How has Covid-19 social distancing amplified the mental health vulnerabilities of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBM). Lisa McDaid.
In Scotland, GBM experience higher levels of suicide, anxiety and depression, problematic alcohol and drug misuse, acute and chronic physical conditions, stigma, discrimination and social isolation, HIV and other STIs than heterosexual populations. Covid-19 social distancing will exacerbate these issues and remove sources of support including work, gay bars and sociosexual mixing. This project will detail the impact of social distancing on GBM’s mental health, wider health and alcohol/drug use. Working with NHS and 3rd sector partners, it will identify services to reduce this impact and produce resources for Scottish service providers. www.smmash2020.org
- National Study of Health and Relationships during Covid-19 (Natsal-Covid Study). Kirstin Mitchell (lead), Raquel Bosó Pérez, Karen Maxwell, Susan Patterson, Ruth Lewis.
This national online survey of 6,000 participants aged 18 to 59 seeks to understand changes in sexual behaviour in Britain during the Covid-19 pandemic and assess the impact on sexual and reproductive health. The project includes follow-up interviews with around 40 survey participants to explore sexual partnerships across households, unmet health needs and relationship difficulties. The project is co-led by Kirstin Mitchell and comprises the researchers from University of Glasgow, UCL and LSHTM responsible for the National Surveys of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal). The findings will seek to capture the excess sexual and reproductive health morbidity arising from the Covid-19 and social restrictions, and will contribute to SRH service and policy planning, modelling of STI transmission, and understanding of anomalies in routine SRH data over the course of the pandemic.
The Natsal COVID study team, co-led by University of Glasgow, presented preliminary findings from wave one of their national survey on the impact of COVID on sexual and reproductive health in Britain. Over 500 sexual and reproductive health professionals registered for the event, including from across Europe. The presentations highlighted strong age-related inequalities, with adverse outcomes more commonly experienced by younger people. The findings also underlined that although SRH services moved rapidly to reconfigure services, there were delays to access and unmet need affecting contraceptive use, cervical screening and STI diagnosis. The team are now writing up the papers for publication.
- Can the app contain the spread? An agent-based model of the progression of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of smartphone-based contact tracing. Jonatan Almagor, Stefano Picascia.
An effective contact tracing system is essential to contain the spread of COVID-19 following the relaxation of lock-down measures implemented in several countries. By means of an agent-based model, we simulate the introduction of a contact-tracing smartphone app, adopted by individuals on a voluntary basis, and assess its effectiveness in containing the spread of the infection. Using demographic census data of the city of Glasgow we generate a synthetic population connected by a social network, and simulate the spread of the virus. Our aim is to explore the impact of several interacting factors on COVID-19 transmission: (1) Proportion of app users (2) testing capacity (3) testing policy and (4) compliance with self-isolation of app users. Using Netlogo simulation environment, we've developed an agent-based simulation model (ABM) of COVID-19 spread and its mitigation strategies. The code of the ABM is stored in GitHub repository and can be freely downloaded: https://github.com/harrykipper/covid. A paper describing the model, the results and possible policy implications is published in Scientific reports.
- Assessing policy to address the medium-run impact of COVID-19 on income and health inequality with models informed by the history of disease outbreaks. Rebecca Mancy (Co-I. PI is Konstantinos Angelopoulos)
This project will model the evolution of inequalities in income, wealth and health following COVID-19, as informed by historical disease outbreaks, and use the models developed to assess mitigation policies. We will develop models of income, wealth and health inequality in the UK. Our models will be used to examine the effects of tax and benefits policies, as well as public health interventions, therefore informing a better policy response to the inequality impacts of COVID-19. This grant is funded by ESRC as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19. Briefing: Post-pandemic mortality dynamics - historical city-level evidence was published in September 2020.
- Investigating incidence, severity and risk factors for COVID-19 in BAME and Migrant groups to inform public health action. Vittal Katikireddi (Co-I. PI Rob Aldridge, UCL)
This project aims to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on minority ethnic and migrant groups and how to tackle it in community settings. The study will build on ‘Virus Watch’, which was previously funded by UKRI and NIHR to study 25,000 individuals across the country in a nationally representative household cohort to monitor spread of the novel coronavirus across England. This funding will enable the recruitment of approximately 12,000 more people from minority ethnic and migrant groups. Their symptoms will be followed over time and subsets of participants will receive antigen and antibody tests and they will study factors such as household transmission, occupation, co-morbidities, healthcare usage, and mental health and economic impacts. Separately, the project also utilise the Million Migrant Cohort study of healthcare and mortality outcomes in non-EU migrants and refugees to England since 2015. In collaboration with Public Health England, the team will link this with data on COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalisation to determine how often these groups are diagnosed, hospitalised and die with COVID-19 and how this is affected by their socioeconomic situation and pre-existing health conditions. Read the news story on UKRI website: Multimillion investment in six new research projects to investigate COVID-19 and ethnicity.
- GCRF ARISE hub consortium and COVID-19. ARISE Hub team including Linsay Gray, Alastair Leyland, Eliud Kibuchi and Ross Forsyth.
Through the GCRF ARISE hub consortium, we are involved in the conduct of COVID-19 case studies in informal settlements in Bangladesh, India, Kenya and SierraLeone.
The purposes of these community-based participatory research (CBPR) studies are 1) to identify and explore accountability and governance deficits exposed by COVID-19, as well as any new opportunities to address these, in order to inform strategic responses by organisations to address these, within and across local, municipal, national and global spaces; 2) to understand how intersecting social inequalities may shape vulnerabilities and resilience to COVID-19 over time in order to inform efforts to work in an empowering way with the most marginalised; 3) to identify the health and well-being challenges that emerge over time during the pandemic to inform immediate actions in the short term and collective prioritisation for action in the medium term through CBPR cycles.
The COVID-19 case study aims to generate learning across different contexts (spatially) and through the different evolving stages of the pandemic responses (temporally), including documenting the (potential) emergence of new governance actors, modalities or interactions, accountability processes, and shifting health and well-being priorities.
- How has COVID-19 and associated mitigation measures impacted on the mental health of carers? Led by Elise Whitley.
It is estimated that approximately 9 million adults in the UK are carers with around half caring for someone in the same household. In the context of COVID-19, informal live-in carers have been especially important as formal and informal external care and services have been withdrawn. Prior to the pandemic, the mental health of carers was known to be worse than that of the general population and it is therefore important to understand the additional impact of COVID-19 and associated mitigation measures.
We will use data from the Understanding Society main and COVID-specific surveys to explore changes in mental health of those caring for others in the home. We will consider the relationship of carer to care-recipient and the nature of the recipient's condition, as well as the impact of factors such as the withdrawal of external support, changes to carer workload and role, and the shielding status of both carer and care-recipient.
- Digital Connections: How is digital youth work sustaining positive social relationships and mental health support among LGBTQ+ youth during the COVID-19 pandemic? Ruth Lewis (lead), Christina McMellon, Lisa McDaid.
Research consistently finds that LGBTQ+ youth report significantly higher rates of depression, self-harm, suicidality and poor mental health than heterosexual-cisgender youth. The youth work sector provides a vital source of mental health support for LGBTQ+ young people, and LGBTQ+ youth groups are one of the most highly rated support mechanisms. As face-to-face youth groups and services are currently suspended during the pandemic, youth organisations are innovating new ways of supporting LGBTQ+ young people digitally, including via online youth groups. This participatory project is working with LGBTQ+ young people and youth workers to document and explore their experiences of sustaining mental health support and positive social relationships through online youth groups. This project is supported by the TRIUMPH network.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused extensive disruption and challenges within the lives of young people. However, while there is good evidence to draw upon for advice and support, it is not always easily accessible for those who need it.
Over the next 18 months, the team will be working on an exciting new project to support young people’s mental health. The project will work to make sense of what research says about how the mental health of young people aged 11 – 16 years has been affected by the pandemic.
- Understanding the impacts of income and welfare policy responses to COVID-19 on inequalities in mental health: a microsimulation model. Professor Vittal Katikireddi (lead).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK government and devolved administrations are implementing policies to try and maintain employment and income. Despite this, many people have lost their jobs and more are likely to do so. Further policy changes will be needed as the pandemic continues. It is vital that these are informed by evidence about the impact they could have on people’s mental health, as unemployment and poverty are strongly associated with poorer health.
This project will look at who is impacted the most by the job losses and declines in income, what the likely mental health consequences are of an economic crisis, and what the implications are of different economic and welfare policies. The project team will develop a mathematical model which will simulate the potential impact of economic changes on the mental health of people in Britain. Economic models will be used to estimate how the downturn will impact jobs and income, and information collected from the same people over many years will be used to study the relationship between jobs, income and mental health. The model will demonstrate how mental health might change under different economic policies (such as furlough or changes in welfare benefits), and the impact on mental health inequalities. The project, funded by the Health Foundation, will help inform the COVID-19 response by demonstrating the scale of the potential mental health crisis and how unemployment and income falls contribute, comparing the mental health impacts of different policies, and demonstrating how simulation models can be used to study the broader causes of poor health and inequalities.
- Vittal Katikireddi is a member of SAGE subgroup on ethnicity and COVID-19.
- Ruth Dundas is part of The Scottish COVID-19 Response Consortium (SCRC) - a group of epidemiologists, mathematical modellers, data scientists, software developers and other scientists that have come together to develop new models to help inform the control of COVID-19.
- Vittal Katikireddi is co-chair of the Scottish Government’s Expert Reference Group on ethnicity and COVID-19.
- Eric Silverman is a member of Covid-19 Healthcare Coalition which is developing a decision-support dashboard intended to help policy-makers in the US to monitor the progress of the pandemic at the state and county level throughout the country.
- Rich Mitchell and Jonathan Olsen are on Public Health Scotland's Social and System Recovery: Environments and Spaces Group. Rich is leading their Evidence and Data subgroup. The group is currently exploring the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for open spaces, parks, streets and public spaces.
- Elise Whitley is a member of Public Health Scotland’s Mental Health Cell and currently contributing to priority setting for future work and advising on likely data sources for monitoring.
- Vittal Katikireddi is co-chair and Rachel Thomson, Theocharis Kromydas and Peter Craig are members of a group convened by Public Health Scotland to advise the Scottish Government and other stakeholders on the impacts of the COVID-19 response on health and health inequalities that arise through economic and related pathways, and on actions that may mitigate negative impacts and enhance positive impacts. The group has published a briefing looking at protecting the health of the working-age population as lockdown reduces.
- Alastair Leyland and Linsay Gray have joined the DHSC/UKRI Global Effort on COVID-19 Health Research College of Experts.
- Vittal Katikireddi has joined the DHSC/UKRI COVID-19 rapid research funding College of Experts.
- Jonathan Olsen is a member of SS&R Transport - Data and Evidence Sub Group hosted by Public Health Scotland.
- The Schools Health and Wellbeing Improvement Research Network (SHINE) have developed resources to help schools, their students and parents with their response to COVID-19. Visit the SHINE website to download these resources.
- Generation Scotland has launched a CovidLife survey to understand the psychological, social and economic impacts of COVID-19. SHINE is working with Generation Scotland to develop a TeenCovidLife survey for 12-17 years olds to see how COVID-19 is affecting their health and wellbeing, social and home life. Read about the findings.
- The Transdisciplinary Research for the Improvement of Youth Mental Public Health (TRIUMPH) Network has created a COVID-19 hub with links to organisations who can offer information, mental health advice and support to children and young people, parents/carers, and others involved in supporting young people at this time. You can also read the latest evidence about the impact of COVID-19 on young people’s mental health. The TRIUMPH Network are also collaborating with Oxford Centre for Emotions and Affective Disorders on the Oxford ARC Study. This UK-wide study investigates resilience and how adolescents and their parents/carers are coping with social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, with weekly updates from the study published on the study website.
- Ruth Dundas and Alastair Leyland have written a blog contrasting government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and inequality in the UK. While taking urgent and radical action according to the precautionary principle is entirely appropriate to address the pandemic, they argue that the inequalities challenge is at least as important and thereby should demand a similar urgency and seriousness of response.
- Umberto Gostoli and Eric Silverman have written a public letter ‘Sound behavioural theories, not data, is what makes computational models useful’ published in Review of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation.
- Carrie Purcell published an opinion piece on the IRESH website on how access to abortion might be supported during Covid-19.
- Whilst undertaking PhD research, Amrit Purba has written two articles published in Nursing Times discussing a number of approaches which could be adopted to reduce the baseline demand on the NHS and flatten the curve: ‘Enhance the NHS nursing workforce’s contribution to tackle COVID-19’ and 'How should the role of the nurse change in response to COVID-19?'
- Rod Taylor and Carrie Purcell have written a correspondence to the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology on the need to maintain access to cardiac rehabilitation during COVID-19.
- Vittal Katikireddi and IHW's Claire Niedzwiedz have published a piece in the Conversation on why black and Asian people are at greater risk of COVID-19.
- Eric Silverman is a member of Covid-19 Healthcare Coalition which is developing a decision-support dashboard intended to help policy-makers in the US to monitor the progress of the pandemic at the state and county level throughout the country.
- Rich Mitchell and Jonathan Olsen have published the Official report from Social & System Recovery - Environment and Spaces Group (Public Health Scotland) on the change in use of green and open space following the COVID-19 lockdown.
- Marcia Gibson has written a blog for Policy Scotland about whether a basic income could be an effective response to the COVID-19 crisis.
- Alastair Leyland has writen a news piece, 'The UK society for social medicine and population health: reflections on COVID-19 in Europe' published in European Journal of Public Health.
- Jamie Lachman has written a correspondence, 'Parenting in a time of COVID-19', published in The Lancet.