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King's contribution to coronavirus response

From providing expert analysis, to researching therapeutic treatments and advising the UK government, King’s experts are supporting the global narrative and response to the evolving novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Emergency Preparedness

The King’s-led NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emergency Preparedness and Response are supporting the government’s approach to the outbreak. Academics from the Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy, and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience research the complexity of major incidents, supporting Public Health England’s ability to minimize the health impacts of emergencies.

The unit is an integral aspect of the UK government’s ongoing research phase, providing expert guidance on a range of topics including responses to infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, and they are incorporated in the UK Government’s Coronavirus Action Plan.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely and Dr James Rubin co-authored an analysis of the psychological impacts of quarantine in response to the lockdown of Wuhan, China in January. You can read more in the British Medical Journal.

You can explore more of the Unit’s publications here.

A new therapeutic treatment for vulnerable patients

A new technique to improve the outcome of patients with novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pneumonia has proven safe and effective. Co-authored by King’s Professor Georgina Ellison-Hughes, the study intravenously transplanted stem cells into seven patients, and observed results over 14 days. Before the transplantation, all patients had pneumonia with symptoms of high fever, weakness, shortness of breath and low oxygen saturation. All symptoms had disappeared by two to four days after the transplantation.

You can read the full study here.

Expert Analysis

How did the virus originate?

Dr Nathalie MacDermott discussed the origins of the COVID-19 outbreak with Andy Bell for Channel 5 News.

A test of public trust in China

Professor Kerry Brown, Director of the Lau China Institute, analysed the political implications of the coronavirus outbreak in China for the New York Times. From his perspective, the outbreak of coronavirus was a test for public trust in the Chinese Communist Party, and Xi Jinping as China’s leader.

He said: ‘This is the sort of thing that could absolutely gnaw at the confidence and legitimacy of the whole regime. Although he views public mistrust of the Chinese government's announcements as potentially unfair, he said ‘to redefine things – even legitimately – at a moment like this is always going to be a presentational challenge, because people are going to be very sensitive, and they’re going to suspect there’s another agenda’.

How accurate are the reported infection numbers?

Professor Stuart Neil appears on newsnight, with a subtitle of his name
There’s undoubtedly going to be more people infected than we know about, there’s going to be people with mild symptomology who don’t think much about it. The more we test, the more we find, the less of those unknowns there will be. I think that’s the lesson coming out of South Korea, where they’ve done a lot of testing, where they’ve really understood that there’s a lot more people infected.– Professor Stuart Neil, Head of Department, Infectious Diseases

Professor Kenji Shibuya, Director of the Institute for Population Health, concurred, suggesting that seemingly low rates of infection in Japan would increase as more people were tested. He further said that wider availability of tests could help ease public anxiety for CNN.

The UK’s approach

Dr Nathalie MacDermott explained why the government has moved into the ‘delay’ phase, and what actions we could be facing as part of efforts to mitigate the virus’ impact on public services: ‘the UK government mentioned several possibilities that could be introduced during the "delay" stage to reduce the spread of COVID-19, these include closing schools for a period of time, postponing large scale public gatherings and asking anyone with cold and flu like symptoms to remain at home for 7 days.’

Although there has been criticism that the UK hasn’t yet followed more extreme measures recently introduced by other countries, Dr MacDermott suggested that: ‘evidence indicates if such measures are brought in too early then the population become fatigued with complying with them over time. Hence the government’s decision to introduce them in stages with appropriate scientific evidence indicating they will significantly affect the course of the UK epidemic at that stage. The importance of community engagement and population compliance with public health measures in containing disease outbreaks should not be under-estimated.'


Supporting older people

To date, mortality rates suggest that vulnerable groups including older people have a higher risk of susceptibility to serious symptoms of the novel coronavirus. Dr Claire Steves appeared on ITV’s This Morning, discussing the best ways to support elderly friends and relatives in our communities.

Funding new knowledge

King’s has an important opportunity and responsibility to use our research expertise in support of the international response to the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak. King’s is providing new grants of up to £20,000 for King’s research teams across all disciplines, through the King’s Together programme.

These proposals could explore the effects of outbreak on mental health, the broader socio-economic impacts for society, the functioning of healthcare systems globally, alongside more directly-linked studies of immunology and physiology.

Applications do not require multi-Faculty teams, and a 1-page summary of proposals should be sent to by 18th March.

Novel Coronavirus image courtesy of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases-Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIH.

In this story

Kerry  Brown

Kerry Brown

Director, Lau China Institute

Georgina Ellison-Hughes

Georgina Ellison-Hughes

Professor of Regenerative Muscle Physiology

Nathalie MacDermott

Nathalie MacDermott

NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer in Paediatrics (Infectious Diseases)

James Rubin

James Rubin

Professor of Psychology & Emerging Health Risks

Claire  Steves

Claire Steves

Professor of Ageing and Health

Simon Wessely

Simon Wessely

Regius Professor of Psychiatry

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