Science, Policy & Pandemics: Our Current Understanding of Covid-19

15 June 2020


What have we learned about the epidemiology of covid-19 since the onset of the UK’s lockdown?

In the twelfth episode of our series on Science, Policy and Pandemics, our host Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by disease dynamic experts to discuss what we know now about the dynamics of covid-19 that we didn't know twelve weeks ago.

Listen to the discussion here:

Produced in partnership with Cambridge Infectious Diseases and the Cambridge Immunology Network, CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's series on science, policy and pandemics aims to answer questions about our understanding of the current pandemic, including the epidemiology, on what basis governments are making current decisions, how much confidence we can have in the knowledge models are producing, and how to manage the uncertainties involved in the present crisis.

In this episode, Dr Rob Doubleday was joined by infectious disease epidemiologist Professor James Wood and mathematician Professor Julia Gog. Three months after their appearance in the first episode of our series on science, policy and pandemics, Dr Doubleday welcomed them back share an update on what they have learned since March, how the situation has evolved, and what they think the future of the pandemic response might look like.

Throughout the discussion, Professor Wood and Professor Gog noted that it looks as though, as of June 2020, a fairly low proportion of the UK's population is serologically positive for covid-19, and that while London was ahead in the spread of the virus going in to lockdown, there remains insufficient immunity to ignore or discount the virus. Moreover, while epidemiological modelling has shown that physical distancing and lockdown in the UK were effective in reducing community transmission of the virus, there remains significant challenges to reducing transmission within hospitals and the care home system.

In terms of what the future of the covid-19 response looks like, Professor Gog stressed that within the scientific community, "most of us believe that virus eradication would be extremely hard with the tools we have at the moment." While this could change with the development of pharmaceutical interventions that could shorten infection, with the development of a vaccine of any level of efficacy, and with improved contact tracking and tracing, she suggest that eradication within the UK presently feels "a long way off and not within the power of the tools we've got". Moreover, she notes that right now, global eradication is "just unimaginable" at this point.

With this in mind, the question was raised as to how our society might adapt as we try to learn to live with this virus in the short and medium term. Here, Professor Gog notes that findings indicate "COVID-19 doesn't seem to about the children in terms of either the transmission or in terms of the risk", which help with the safe re-opening of schools. Meanwhile, Professor Wood stressed that we need to think about "how we can do things that are fun and nice while not putting other people at risk." He suggests that face masks will be important, and that certain outdoor activities, such as camping and football, may become relatively low risk once we have a widespread, available testing and tracing system. Moreover, he notes that local lockdowns, like those used in France, may be one useful measure going forward, especially given that people are much more willing to implement local measures where they see the real risk to people they know around them.

CSaP's Science and Policy Podcast's special series on Science, Policy and Pandemics is available across all major podcasting platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Google Play, RadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Podbean, ListenNotes, Acast, Player.FM, Podcast Addict, and Castbox.

Cover Photo by iMattSmart on Unsplash