Imperial’s COVID-19 Response Team has spent over a year tracking the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since January 2020, the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team has worked with scientists, governments and public health agencies around the world to help plan responses to the pandemic.
In total the team have now published 42 reports, 12 planning tools and over 60 peer-reviewed publications.
The Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team 2020-2021 Report reveals the impact of their work to date.
Revealing the scale of the pandemic threat
The team’s Report 1, published on 17 January 2020, was the first to unveil the scale of the emerging outbreak suggesting the outbreak was already considerably larger than detected at the time.
In the face of rapidly changing data, the team provided robust estimates for the case fatality ratio and infection fatality (IFR) ratio in early February 2020.
With an IFR at least ten-times higher than influenza, this work gave the first reliable estimates of the true scale of the threat.
The team’s influential Report 9 showed that health systems of any country would be overwhelmed unless suppression strategies were adopted. This work highlighted the inevitable resurgence of transmission once lockdowns were lifted and that intermittent lockdowns would be required until a vaccine was available.
Helping health services and governments prepare
The Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team has provided governments around the world with insights into the evolving epidemic.
The team have worked with many governments in countries among the hardest hit, including: Brazil, Italy, South Africa, the UK and the USA.
The COVID-19 scenario analysis tool (covidsim.org) allows the user to make projections of the prevalence of infections each day and the expected number of people requiring hospitalisation and critical care facilities. This tool provides projections for every country and is currently used across the world, accessed from close to 200 different countries and territories.
Global impact of Covid-19
“One of the major challenges throughout the pandemic has been estimating how much transmission has occurred within each country.” Dr Oliver Watson Imperial Covid-19 Response Team
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in low-income settings or groups within a country may be more severe than high-income settings due to limited healthcare capacity and ability to maintain highly restrictive lockdowns.
Working together with academics, healthcare providers and policy makers across the world, the team’s analysis highlighted specific enhanced risks and key vulnerabilities – alongside the broader concerns surrounding displaced or conflict-affected populations.
Dr Oliver Watson, from the School of Public Health, said: “One of the major challenges throughout the pandemic has been estimating how much transmission has occurred within each country.”
The team also investigated the indirect impact of COVID-19 and estimated that some low and middle income countries may see deaths related to HIV, TB and malaria increase by up to 10, 20 and 36% respectively over five years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The team have provided key modelling and advice to the World Health Organization (WHO), other international partners and countries on potential vaccine impact and optimal allocation strategies.
In addition, the team have analysed the impact of COVID-19 on childhood vaccination programmes.
The team’s Covidsim.org tool was also updated to project the impact of vaccine programmes in all countries.
Professor Azra Ghani said “By developing a tool that can be used with minimal user-training, we hope that this will enable those involved with planning their local response to understand how to best use the vaccine doses that they have available to protect public health alongside reducing social restrictions.”
As the pandemic progressed, the emergence of new coronavirus variants in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa has required countries to rapidly reassess their epidemic trajectories and control strategies.
A collaborative study with colleagues in Brazil showed that the newly emerging lineage (P.1) was highly prevalent (42%) in samples tested in December 2020 in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region which is being severely hit by COVID-19.
In the UK, the Team evaluated the relationship between transmission and the frequency of the new variant of concern in England, B.1.1.7, over time (Report 42). Critically, they estimated that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the wild-type variant.
The outlook for the year ahead
“The incredible scientific progress made during the pandemic, as highlighted by the speed of vaccine development, is cause for huge optimism.” Professor Neil Ferguson Director of MRC-GIDA and J-IDEA
Professor Neil Ferguson, who leads the team, said: “The incredible scientific progress made during the pandemic, as highlighted by the speed of vaccine development, is cause for huge optimism especially as we see the advanced roll out of several COVID-19 vaccines.
“However, whilst for many high-income countries this year 2021 will return some level of normality, it is critical to ensure the fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all.
“As the world rolls out vaccination while facing the challenge posed by new virus variants, we are continuing our work to better understand the virus, its spread and how best to control it.”
Collaborating with global partners
The team are embedded within Imperial’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis (MRC GIDA), under the umbrella of the Jameel Institute (J-IDEA) based in the School of Public Health, working closely with Imperial’s Department of Mathematics and Imperial College Business School.
Since the start of the pandemic the team have worked with 95 collaborators across the world.
Professor Ferguson said: “Internationally, our many friends and colleagues in the World Health Organization, other multilateral bodies and in many individual countries have worked tirelessly to help communities across the world better respond to the pandemic. Their often-challenging work has saved countless lives.”
Read the 2020-2021 Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team report.
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