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.

  • POSTnote

    Machine learning (ML, a type of artificial intelligence) is increasingly being used to support decision making in a variety of applications including recruitment and clinical diagnoses. While ML has many advantages, there are concerns that in some cases it may not be possible to explain completely how its outputs have been produced. This POSTnote gives an overview of ML and its role in decision-making. It examines the challenges of understanding how a complex ML system has reached its output, and some of the technical approaches to making ML easier to interpret. It also gives a brief overview of some of the proposed tools for making ML systems more accountable.

  • 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.

  • Work programme

    A POSTnote on preventing zoonotic diseases will review the evidence on a One Health approach to zoonoses prevention. It will focus on the animal-environment-human interface in both wild and domestic animals, reviewing national and international policy approaches, and lessons learnt from previous epidemics. It will also summarise opportunities and challenges for the UK’s role in global health and biosecurity policy arenas post COVID-19. Provisional start date: January 2021.

  • Work programme

    A POSTnote on childhood obesity will summarise the latest trends in children’s diet, obesity and related health conditions and review the impacts of previous policy changes such as the tax on sugar sweetened drinks. It will also examine the factors underlying the growing gap in outcomes for children from the most and least deprived backgrounds. Provisional start date: January 2021.

  • POSTnote

    Evolving life sciences and agricultural research approaches may have a decreasing need to access physical resources in future, such as plant seeds or viral material. Information and genetic data may be all that is required for commercial exploitation of biological resources. This POSTnote summarises the challenge this creates for international discussions on the governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing these.

  • POSTbrief

    Medical tourism refers to when people seek medical treatment in a different country than the one they reside. In the context of this brief it refers to UK residents seeking elective, non-emergency medical treatment abroad. This briefing outlines the nature of the global medical tourism industry, the number of UK residents seeking medical treatments abroad, the types of treatments sought and the reasons for seeking them, the countries visited, and examines the issues raised for the patients and for the NHS on their return.