How the new coronavirus spreads 

A crowd of people with a network of cells in the front of the frame

Understanding how the new coronavirus spreads is essential to containing it.

UKRI is supporting research that tracks infections through the UK population and creates a genetic family tree to identify where infections originated.

Our researchers are creating and improving the computer models that simulate this spread to help protect the vulnerable and improve our understanding of what impact different restrictions have on the infection rates.

UCL 25,000-person virus watch

UKRI-funded researchers at University College London to carry out Virus Watch: a project that is studying 25,000 people across the country for coronavirus.

Within the group, 10,000 people are being tested for SARS-CoV-2 and other circulating viruses every time they report symptoms that could be caused by COVID-19.

Decoding the genome of COVID-19

The Medical Research Council, in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Wellcome Trust, is backing the UK’s leading clinicians and scientists to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves by using whole genome sequencing.

Through a £20 million investment, the consortium is finding insights that help the UK respond to this and future pandemics.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium comprises the NHS, public health agencies, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and numerous academic institutions. It is delivering large-scale, rapid sequencing of the virus and sharing intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the government.

By looking at the whole virus genome in people who have had confirmed cases of COVID-19, scientists can monitor changes in the virus at a national scale.

This helps us to understand:

  • how the virus is spreading
  • whether different strains are emerging
  • whether changes in the virus affect the severity of disease.

By October 2020, the consortium had sequenced over 68,000 virus samples.

Using maths to combat coronavirus

With support from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, mathematicians from the University of Manchester are using their computer modelling expertise to advise the government on how to best protect the UK population during the coronavirus emergency.

To better predict the future, they are looking back to historic pandemics like the bubonic plague for clues on infection patterns.

With a focus on the risk to communities in enclosed places like prisons and cruise ships, their work has informed the scientific and technical advice to COBRA, the government’s national emergency team.

COBRA used this to make decisions such as when to order school closures, and on advice to the public about staying in isolation.

Last updated: 28 October 2020

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