expert reaction to theme issue on ‘Modelling that shaped the early COVID-19 pandemic response in the UK’


Here are some comments from authors and guest editors of some of these papers published in Philosophical Transactions B (i.e not third-party comments) in case useful.


Dr Paul Birrell and Prof Daniela De Angelis, both of the MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, said:

“Our paper is an account of how the official model of Public Health England, developed as a tool for pandemic preparedness, was swiftly rolled-out and adapted in real time to tackle emerging pandemic challenges.  Over the course of the first pandemic wave, this model was used for timely estimation of CoVID-19 transmission and short-term forecasting of infections and deaths.

“Like many of the papers in the current volume, we are able to identify policy decisions directly influenced by this work, along with lessons to be learned ahead of the next pandemic.”


Dr Ellen Brooks Pollock, Guest Editor, Senior Lecturer in Infectious Disease Modelling, a member of the government’s SPI-M modelling group, and a member of the JUNIPER (Joint UNIversities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research) consortium, said:

“COVID-19 is one of the biggest challenges the world has faced in recent times.  This collection of work from a large number of SPI-M scientists working behind the scenes tells the science as it was at the time policy decisions were being made.  It illustrates where the science was certain but also where there were uncertainties and trade-offs.  There is not always a “right” decision.”


Dr Leon Danon, Guest Editor, Associate Professor in Infectious Disease Modelling and Data Analytics at Bristol, member of SPI-M and SAGE-sub-group on social care, and a member of the JUNIPER (Joint UNIversities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research) consortium said:

“During the first wave of the coronavirus emergency, the pandemic escalated very quickly, accurate independent mathematical and statistical modelling was key in advising the government on a number of critical issues to help them make informed decisions that underpinned some of the unprecedented restrictive measures implemented to stop the virus spread.

“The scientific evidence around SARS-CoV-2 has changed and shifted as rapidly as the virus has spread, and traditional methods of scientific publishing have simply failed to keep up.  Calls for the science to be published that informed decisions on highly disruptive control interventions come from all sectors of society, and especially in the last few days.  This issue does exactly that: it collects a large body of work that informed policy and puts them in one place.  The aim of the issue was to document the work that has been useful in this pandemic.  The next pandemic is undoubtedly going to present us with different challenges, but perhaps some of the work captured here will remain relevant.”


Prof Mark Woolhouse, author in the Special Issue, and Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Mathematical models have become essential public health tools.  They capture the inherent complexity of epidemic dynamics, helping us interpret past patterns and explore possible futures.  Used wisely, models are often the best evidence we have to guide policy, not least the rapid decision-making needed in early 2020.”


Dr Jonathan Read, author in the Special Issue, and Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics at the University of Lancaster, said:

“This early work, possibly the first transmission model of the pandemic, had two important findings.  Firstly, our study estimated the likely full scale of epidemic in Wuhan in January 2020.  Secondly, by estimating the basic reproduction number of the virus, it provided crucial information on the potential of to cause a pandemic and how hard it may be to control.

“This work showed that important information, at a time when such information was desperately needed to inform emergency and public health policy, could be gleaned from early hospital case data using a relatively simple epidemic model.”



21 papers are being published as part of this theme.

The introduction paper is entitled: ‘Modelling that shaped the early COVID-19 pandemic response in the UK’ by Ellen Brooks-Pollock et al. and was published in Philosophical Transactions B at 00:01 UK time on Monday 31 May 2021.

DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2021.0001



Declared interests

None received.