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Leeds researchers providing advice at the heart of Government

Leeds researchers providing advice at the heart of Government

Experts from the University of Leeds are advising the Government on the covid-19 pandemic, including as members of influential scientific panels.

SAGEthe Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, gives advice to Ministers who are using it to make decisions about how to relax lockdown and combat the virus.

The Leeds researchers assisting SAGE and its working groups are:

Iyiola Solanke, Professor of EU Law and Social Justice, School of Law

Professor Solanke sits on the expert group known as SPI-B, which provides advice aimed at anticipating and helping people adhere to interventions that are recommended by medical or epidemiological experts. Input is made by academics from a variety of fields including health psychology, social psychology, anthropology, history and law.

The pictire is a portratin of Professor Iyiola Solanke, taken at her home.

Professor Iyiola Solanke 

Professor Solanke, who has a specialism in EU and anti-discrimination law, conducts research into a number of areas relating to equality, justice and integration. She contributes to SPI-B by helping the government think about how people from black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) communities are being impacted by covid-19 and the policies envisaged to control it.

As highlighted in a recent report from Public Health England, these communities suffer a disproportionately high number of covid-19 deaths.

Professor Solanke also highlighted figures revealing that people from BAME communities were more likely to receive an enforcement penalty for breaching lockdown rules than their white counterparts. Such issues have the potential to undermine the government’s test and trace policy if people lose faith in the fairness of the system.

She said: “Under the tracing procedure, people will be asked to reveal the details of others they have been in contact with. That requires trust. If they feel authorities such as the police have been heavy handed in issuing enforcement notices, then that trust can be lost.

“And the problem is that if test and trace does not engage people in the BAME communities, it can undermine the effectiveness of the whole system.”

Mark Wilcox, Professor of Medical Microbiology, School of Medicine

Professor Wilcox sits on the hospital onset covid-19 and environmental working groups.

He advises the NHS and Public Health England on infection prevention and control and has also led clinical trials into new drugs to combat healthcare-associated infections. 

Professor Wilcox is involved in investigating the way the virus, SARS-CoV-2 which causes covid-19, may spread within a hospital. It is separate to the issue of PPE and is about systems and procedures that can reduce the risk of the virus being transmitted between and among patients and healthcare workers.

He is also contributing to a workstream identifying ways of modelling the risks of the virus spreading in different environments: for example, on public transport, in shops and in factories - and how to reduce those risks.

Professor Wilcox said: “Modelling is a crunch issue – it will help to inform what the new version of a more relaxed lockdown may look like. Creating the best models relies on being able to access real life data on how the virus that causes COVID-19 behaves.”

Cath Noakes, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings, School of Civil Engineering

Professor Noakes is a member of SAGE and the hospital onset covid-19, environmental, and children's working groups. The children's working group is examining transmission in children and within schools.

Using the principles of fluid dynamics - the analysis of air flows – Professor Noakes’ research team at Leeds simulate pathogen spread in hospitals and other public buildings and analyse how to reduce any threat through more effective ventilation, air-filtration and disinfection systems. They also look at microorganisms on surfaces, and model how people touching contaminated surfaces can move microorganisms around the environment and become infected themselves.

She said: “Being aware of what can be spread through the environment in buildings has been overlooked in recent years as engineers and designers have focused on issues like energy efficiency.

But in crowded public buildings and places such as hospitals and care homes, there is risk of pathogens being spread. The positive news is that combining existing technologies with design and behavior interventions can help mitigate against that threat.”

Tribute to Leeds' research strengths

Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, said: "The fact that a number of the University's experts are providing analysis for SAGE is a tribute to the strength of the research endeavour at Leeds.

At the heart of our research strategy is our commitment to play a leading role in tackling the big challenges facing the world and at the moment, there is none any bigger than the threat from covid-19. 

"SAGE members are critical in helping inform decisions about how and when the country will emerge from lockdown and how we transition to the next phase of living with this virus. I am proud that the University is contributing to the scientific evidence that will underpin that advice.

"The work our academics are contributing to SAGE is vitally important. But the effort to tackle the effects of the covid-19 pandemic extends further and involves staff across the entire university who are providing research and innovation support and expert input to the NHS, Government departments and businesses in a hugely collaborative effort."

The image shows the back of a scientists standing at a laboratory bench surrounding with chemistry equipment

Other Leeds researchers advising Whitehall policymakers include:

Mark Birkin, Professor of Spatial Analysis and Policy, Leeds Institute for Data Analytics

Professor Birkin is also a programme director at the Alan Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence. He is leading a group of data scientists and modellers, brought together by the Royal Society in a project called RAMP Rapid Assistance in Modelling the Pandemic.  The aim is to develop new data driven models and insights to evaluate policy response and strategic interventions that can support the Government’s scientific advisers. One aim of the project is to enhance modelling capacity in time to create a clearer understanding of different exit strategies from the current lockdown.

Professor Birkin said: “RAMP and its distinct, cross-disciplinary approach provides an important platform for predictive analytics supporting policy insight and enhanced decision-making.  I welcome the opportunity to work with the Turing and its partners in Leeds and other universities in the UK’s fight against the pandemic.”

Garrett Brown, Professor of Political Theory and Global Health Policy, School of Politics and International Studies

Professor Brown has been involved in a round table discussion with the Cabinet Office to think through possible economic and health scenarios and priorities over the next six months, and the policy levers that can be used in response. One key area of focus is how the UK can best lead international cooperative efforts on COVID-19 vaccine development, collaborative response and control, as well as how best to pursue preventative measures against future pathogenic risks.

Chris Gale, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, Leeds Institute for Data Analytics

Professor Gale uses population-based data to investigate cardiovascular care and outcomes.  

Working with NICOR, the national body that collates data on heart disease, NHS Digital and NHS England, he and colleagues are using national data to report the impact of covid-19 on heart attack hospitalisations and treatments across the NHS.

For further information, please contact David Lewis in the University of Leeds press office: d.lewis@leeds.ac.uk 

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