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.

Publications

  • 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). 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. 

Projects

  • 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 a partial return 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. www.smmash2020.org

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.

  • 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: https://github.com/harrykipper/covid.

  • 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.

  • 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.


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