COVID-19: how our research is supporting the global effort

Illustration of a virus overplayed with the planetOur 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.



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.

Read more.

  • 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.

Read our consultation response to the UK Parliament Education Committee on the effects of school closures during the pandemic.

  • 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. 

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.  

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.

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 AlmagorStefano 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: 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.

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. 

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