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Spread and transmission

Spread and transmission

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 launches 25,000-person Virus Watch

UKRI has funded researchers at UCL to carry out Virus Watch: a project that will study 25,000 people across the country for coronavirus. Within the group, 10,000 people will be 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

UKRI, through the MRC and 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 understand how the virus is spreading, whether different strains are emerging and whether changes in the virus affect the severity of disease.

As of late June, the consortium has sequenced 25,000 virus samples from coronavirus and created a ‘family tree’ showing their spread. This indicates that COVID-19 infections have been brought to the UK more than 1,300 times.

The numbers game: using maths to combat coronavirus

With support from EPSRC, 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 such as prisons and cruise ships, their work has informed the scientific and technical advice that led COBRA, the government’s national emergency team, such as which makes decisions such as to when to order school closures, and on advice to the public about staying in isolation.