During the COVID-19 pandemic, we worked with partners to respond to calls for rapid research and longer-term studies to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Evidence from our work has had a direct impact on policy and guidance development, including through the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), and through the SPI-B and SPI-M sub-groups. We are continuing with this work and are ready to respond to any future calls for rapid evidence relating to coronavirus or any other emerging infectious disease threat.

See our Publications and News pages for information on outputs from our COVID-19 research.

See below for a list of COVID-19 related research projects. This is not an exhaustive list.

Our response

Our research team includes specialists in epidemiology, paediatrics, primary care, evidence synthesis, statistical and mathematical modelling, behavioural science, health psychology, qualitative methods, health economics, trial design, and patient and public involvement. 

We have mobilised our workforce to support the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) in the following ways:

  1. Rapid response to calls for research to help us understand how COVID-19 spreads, in particular assistance with mathematical modelling to predict rates and characteristics of transmission.
  2. Providing expert behavioural science advice and guidance to support public health interventions to change people’s behaviour to reduce virus spread.
  3. Increasing UKHSA’s capacity to conduct real-time surveillance of COVID-19 infection rates in the community.


Advancing PCR testing for SARS-CoV-2 (Finn):  Working to establish quantitative real time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests which enable scientists to look for the genetic sequences specific to the virus and show if someone is infected at the time of testing. Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (£4,980.00).

A mixed-methods evaluation of advice on isolation and health-seeking to contain transmission (Oliver, Lambert, Hickman, Yardley, Amlôt, Rubin, James, Zhang, Lasseter): Mixed methods assessment of advice to self-isolate or social distance in terms of its acceptability, adherence and impact on health and wellbeing. Funder: UKRI (£400,000). with NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London. Start-End dates: 30/3/2020-29/09/2021.

A randomised controlled trial investigating testing contacts of cases. (Isabel Oliver, Lucy Yardley, Derren Ready).

Bristol UNCOVER (Bristol COVID Emergency Research) Group (Led by Adam Finn and includes various other researchers): A group of Bristol researchers united to collaborate on finding ways to overcome the disease. Funder: N/A. Ongoing 

Conduct of rapid reviews relating to mental health and psychosocial support (Weston, Amlôt): Rapid evidence reviews relating to mental health and psychosocial support in the context of COVID-19. Funder: PHE and in partnership with NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at King’s College London. Start-End dates: March 2020 onwards.

COVID-19: Detecting indirect transmission in facilities for elderly care study (COVID-19: DISinFECT). (Derren Ready, Rachel Kwiatkowska).

COVID-19 Mapping and Mitigation in Schools (CoMMinS)Lead collaborators: Caroline Relton and Matthew Hickman. Funder: NIHR-UKRI rapid response initiative. Start/end dates: September 2020-July 2021.

COVID-19 in Older People: A Rapid Clinical Review (Lithander, Christensen) : Rapid review of clinical aspects of COVID-19 with a focus on older people. Lead: Fiona Lithander. Co-Investigator(s): Hannah Christensen [co-author, et al]. Funder: N/A. Start-End dates: 23/03/2020 – 17/04/2020

Contact patterns and behaviour in University of Bristol Staff and students during the COVID-19 pandemic (Emily Nixon, Ellen Brooks-Pollock, Leon Danon, Hannah Christensen, Adam Finn, Adam Trickey, Amy Thomas, Jane Metz and others). Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute 

Developing polling methods to support the response to COVID-19 (Amlôt co-I): Survey to assess people’s behavioural responses to the pandemic. Funder: NIHR Policy Research Programme (£150k). Start-End dates: February 2020 ongoing.

Enhancing The Utilisation Of COVID-19 Testing In Schools Studies: The Joint Analysis Of The COVID-19 Schools Infection Survey (SIS) And The COVID-19 Mapping And Mitigation In Schools (CoMMinS) Study (PI Dr Rachel Denholm). Funder: HDR UK under the Rapid funding call to use and enrich the data within the Data & Connectivity National Core Study (NCS) capability

Epidemiology and transmission of COVID-19 in cases and close contacts in Georgia
(Walker, Vickerman, Lim, Trickey, Stone). Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (£11,148) 

Evaluation of detection of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies at home (EDSAB-HOME) study: evaluating home antibody test kits for SARS-CoV-2. Ranya Mulchandani (PHE), David Wyllie (PHE), Isabel Oliver (PHE), Tim Brooks (PHE), Andre Charlett (PHE), Sian Taylor-Phillips (University of Warwick), Hayley Jones (University of Bristol, HPRU), Tony Ades (UoB, HPRU), Matthew Hickman (UoB, HPRU). Funder: Public Health England. Start-end date: March 2020-tbc.

Evaluation of mass lateral flow device COVID-19 testing of asymptomatic University of Bristol students (Dr Clare French, Dr Sarah Denford, Dr Ellen Brook-Pollock and Prof Matt Hickman). Funder: NIHR HPRU in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol.

Evaluation of the PHE contact tracing programme during the contain phase (Oliver)

Germ Defence evaluation (Ainsworth, Yardley, Little, Horwood). Funders: UKRI, Medical Research Council, NIHR. Start-end date: March 2020-September 2021.

Healthcare seeking behaviour and contact patterns during the COVID-19 pandemic: informing predictive modelling (Brooks-Pollock). Funder: UKRI 

Impact of COVID-19 outbreak on selected conditions (non-respiratory conditions and non-GI infections) using PHE real-time syndromic surveillance system data in England (Oliver) in collaboration with NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at Kings College London

Impact of social distancing advice during the containment and delay phases of Covid-19 (Spottiswoode, Kenward, Robin, Oliver, Hickman): PHE are evaluating the effectiveness, acceptability and impact of advice to “shield” in a sample of 300 clinically vulnerable people in the South West. 

Implementation of a digital behavioural change intervention to improve hand hygiene (Yardley, et al): evaluation in UK and China of how ‘Germ Defence’ (www.germdefence.org) can be rapidly adapted and optimised for the COVID-19 outbreak, using novel participatory-co-design methods. Funder: UKRI (£200,000). 

Interoperability during COVID-19 response (Carter lead supervisor, Amlôt co-supervisor): Collaboration with Keele University to understand the ongoing challenges faced by responders as part of the Civil Contingency Response to COVID-19, particularly as these relate to interoperability. Funder: in partnership with NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at Kings College London. Start-End dates: January 2020 – November 2020.

LOGIC study (Longitudinal study of COVID-19: Symptoms, Virology & Immunology) (Finn, Goenka): Longitudinal collection of respiratory and blood samples, as well as symptom diaries, from frontline healthcare workers in the emergency department of Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. Funder: Grand Appeal (£58,513.00).

Mental health screening for NHS staff (Weston, Amlôt): Working with NHSE/I to develop an online mental health screening tool which can be used by frontline NHS staff. Collecting anonymous information from up to 1.5M staff and provide feedback about their mental health and where to seek appropriate help. Funder: In partnership with NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at Kings College London. Start-End dates: April 2020 onwards.

Nowcasting and forecasting of the COVID-19 pandemic (De Angelis): : Real-time tracking of a pandemic, as data accumulate over time, is an essential component of a public health response to a new outbreak. Funder: Public Health England.

RAPCI Project: Rapid COVID-19 Intelligence to improve primary care response (Murphy, Horwood, Salisbury, MacLeod, Denholm). Funder: NIHR School for Primary Care Research (£40,000.00) Start-End dates: 04/01/2020 – 31/08/2020

Rapid Covid-19 evidence summaries (Horwood): A group of Bristol researchers (including HPRU BSE staff) are reviewing evidence to help inform decision-making and to support strategic responses to COVID-19. 

Rapid evaluation of the effectiveness of public health information materials on COVID-2019 provided to passengers arriving at UK airports from China (Oliver, Lambert, PHE colleagues plus HPRUs in BSE and EPR): Evaluation of PHE English and Chinese leaflets and posters about Covid-19 provided to incoming passengers. Funder: Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) (£20,000). Start-End dates: 03/02/2020-30/02/2020 

Real-time mathematical modelling of COVID-19 in SW England (Booton, Turner, MacGregor, Danon, Brooks-Pollock, Wood): Develop a new model of COVID transmission focussing on demand for hospital beds, which can be used with local/regional or national data. Leads: Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (£400 + publication fees). Start-End dates: 01/04/2020 – 31/07/2020

Roll-out of ‘Germ Defence’ website through GP practices to help reduce coronavirus infections. (Horwood et al.). Funder: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), NIHR ARC West, NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol and supported by Health Data Research UK Better Care South West Partnership and the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care.

Social contacts and mixing patterns under COVID19 social distancing measures (Christensen): Estimating social contacts and mixing patterns in older people under the current social distancing policies in place to address COVID19. Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (EBI) £3,350.00. Start-End dates: 27/04/2020 to 31/05/2020

Social identity, social support and social distancing (Carter, Weston, Amlôt): Longitudinal survey to examine: the impact of social identity and social support on mental and physical health outcomes during social distancing, and whether the content of social identities changes as a result of social distancing.  Funder: In partnership with NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at Kings College London. Start-End dates: April 2020 onwards.

Supporting vulnerable young people during the pandemic and beyond: the response of youth organisations. (Harriet Fisher, Suzanne Audrey, Matthew Hickman). Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute at the University of Bristol. Julty 2020 to January 2021.

The Back to School study: What young people, parents, carers and teachers think about secondary schools re-opening. (Kesten, Lorenc, Kidger, Gray, Langford, Williams, Horwood). Funder: NIHR ARC West and NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation). Start-End dates: 1 July to 31 October 2020.

The effects of school closures on children and parents (Amlôt co-supervisor): A PhD project (amended) to understand how children and parents are currently coping during the pandemic. Funder: ESRC Case Studentship and in partnership with NIHR HPRU in Emergency Preparedness and Response at Kings College London. Start-End dates: March 2020 onwards.

The impact of contact tracing on contact tracers (Oliver): Survey. 

The impact of epidemic outbreaks on the mental health of pregnant women (Brooks, Weston, Greenberg). Rapid evidence review to explore the psychological impact of being pregnant during an infectious disease outbreak. 

The impact of school closures on interactions among children (Brooks, Smith, Webster, Weston, Woodland, Hall, and Rubin): Rapid evidence review of previous studies on school closure. This report was cited by the modelling subgroup of SAGE in their considerations around school closure. Publication: Eurosurveillance 2020; 25:13.  

To understand and evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on GI infections in England in collaboration (Oliver) with NIHR HPRU in Gastrointestinal Infections at University of Liverpool

UKRI Transmission and Mathematical Modelling (Presanis, De Angelis, Tom, Charlett, Birrell): Using Bayesian statistical models to combine multiple datasets to understand the severity of the epidemic – such as the proportion of infections that result in hospitalisation or death. Funder: UKRI/MRC/NIHR (£200,000). Start-End dates: 01/04/2020 – 30/09/2021

UKRI Transmission and Mathematical Modelling (Danon, Brooks-Pollock, Finn): Adapt and develop mathematical models of disease spread and movement within the UK to evaluate the impact of control and mitigation strategies, and to predict where and when the disease will spread. Funder: UKRI (£200,000). 

Understanding the experiences of people who inject drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic (Kesten, Hines Horwood, Telfer, Ayres). Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (£2,484). Start/end date: May 2020-August 2020.

Understanding the immuno-modulatory effects of BCG on subsequent exposure to SARS-CoV2 in human mucosal cells using air liquid interface models (Hill, Davidson, Goenka, Finn). Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (£4,606).

Understanding the impact on, and experiences of, young people during the COVID-19 pandemic (Fisher, Audrey, Hickman, Yardley, Lambert): Qualitative work to understand the impact on, and experiences of, young people during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute (£4,626). Start-End dates: 01/05/2020 – 31/12/2020

Use of digital technologies and self-reported loneliness by older individuals self-isolating during COVID-19 (Lasseter, Christensen, Grant, Sauchelli Toran). Funder: Elizabeth Blackwell Institute

Using linked primary care and viral surveillance data to develop risk stratification models to inform management of severe COVID-19 (Payne, Kontopantelis, Mant, Denholm, Cooper, Forbes, Herbert, Tammes). Funder: NIHR School for Primary Care Research. Start-End Dates: 20/04/2020 – 20/10/2020

What C-OST? How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected people in rural areas who take opiate substitutes? Jenny Scott, Jo Kesten, Hannah Family, Lindsey Hines, Josie Millar.

Further information

For COVID-19 updates from the University of Bristol see: