The COVID-19 Winter Plan, published 23 November, relies on three factors to provide the UK with a “route back to normality”: vaccines, treatments and testing. In addition to PCR testing, lateral flow devices are now being rolled out across England and Wales for the rapid testing of certain occupational groups, community testing and as an alternative to self-isolation following exposure to the virus. How well validated have these tests been? Are they accurate enough for their proposed purposes? And how have they performed to date in mass testing trials?

People’s behaviour has a major role in the success of test, trace and isolate programmes. Uncertainty about whether to report symptoms, low perceived risk of COVID-19 disease and concerns about the consequences of self-isolation are among the barriers to adherence. Has the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies looked at adherence to TTI? What evidence is there on people’s understanding and willingness to be tested, provide contact details and self-isolate? Is there anything that can be done to improve this?

  • Rapid response

    Test, trace and isolate programmes across the UK are under pressure as COVID-19 cases rise in all age groups and demand for tests grows. Further pressure comes from people seeking tests because they have symptoms caused by other respiratory viruses but need a test in order to rule out COVID-19. The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies has described the impact of current test and tracing on the transmission of the virus as “marginal”. How does test and trace work and what are the current challenges limiting its effectiveness in reducing COVID-19 cases?

  • Rapid response

    Some occupational groups have experienced higher rates of both COVID-19 infections and related deaths. Many people who work within these groups are involved in caring for people or patients that are more likely to be infected, or have otherwise been unable to work from home during the peaks of transmission. Which occupations have been most affected, what factors are contributing to this risk and are some sectors of the population being impacted more than others?

  • Rapid response

    During the first 6 months of the pandemic, people from ethnic minority groups were more likely to have COVID-19 disease and also more likely to experience severe outcomes from infection, including death. Lockdown measures have also disproportionately affected some communities more than others. What is driving this increased prevalence and death rates in ethnic minority groups? To what extent is it due to biology or pre-existing health? Or does it represent a continuation and exacerbation of social inequalities?

  • Rapid response

    On 9 September, the Prime Minister announced a moonshot plan for mass COVID-19 testing. Recently there have been capacity issues in the NHS Test and Trace programme and current technologies cannot be scaled easily to millions of tests per day. So, how is COVID-19 testing undertaken, how reliable are current tests, and what technologies or strategies are emerging that would make this moonshot feasible?

  • Horizon scanning

    POST has published 20 COVID-19 Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) for the UK Parliament. ARIs were identified using the input of over 1,000 experts. They were then ranked in order of interest to UK Parliament research and select committee staff, following internal feedback. Each ARI comes with a series of questions aiming to further break down each broad area. The ARIs focus on the impacts of the global pandemic and range from economic recovery and growth, to surveillance and data collection, long-term mental health effects, education, vaccine development, and the NHS.

  • Horizon scanning

    Over 350 experts have shared with us what they think the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic will be in the next 2 to 5 years. This work was done to inform the House of Lords COVID-19 Committee inquiry on Life beyond COVID, and is based on 366 expert responses. Areas of concern include work and employment, health and social care, research and development, society and community, the natural environment, education, arts, culture and sport, infrastructure and crime and justice.

  • Rapid response

    Testing people to see if they are currently infected or previously infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a key component of medical management, public health monitoring and research. Diagnosing people as having active infections is a fundamental part of any test and contact tracing system. Improving the speed and accuracy of tests that detect current infections is a research priority and the focus of recent UK Government investment and policy decisions. Antibody tests are also an important tool to understand how many people in the population have been infected and how their immune system responded.

  • Rapid response

    Contact tracing apps could be used to control the COVID-19 outbreak. Most of them work by automatically registering another smartphone when it is close by for a set period of time. If the user then tests positive for COVID-19 in the future, the contact tracing app notifies these contacts. Concerns have been raised about misuse of personal data. Initial data suggests there has been slow uptake of this new technology by users, and it's unclear if contact tracing apps have had or will affect the pandemic. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and now England and Wales have recently launched contact tracing apps.

  • Rapid response

    There is emerging evidence that COVID-19 affects many systems of the body, with patients reporting a wide range of symptoms. ‘Long-haulers’ are patients who experience ongoing COVID-19 symptoms for several months after infection. These include fatigue, difficulties in thinking, shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular or abnormal heart rhythm, and joint pain. 

  • Rapid response

    Disadvantaged pupils tend to have lower educational attainment compared with their peers; this is often called the disadvantage gap. School closures, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely to have widened the disadvantage gap. This is because disadvantaged pupils tend to have less access to technology, spend less time learning and have reduced support from parents/carers compared with their peers.