Orthodox community to be studied in £5m research project on Covid transmission
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Orthodox community to be studied in £5m research project on Covid transmission

One strand of research will focus on an Orthodox community to understand how its structures, such as household size, may contribute to transmission, including the role of children

The Orthodox Jewish community is to be studied by a major new research project to understand transmission of Coronavirus in different areas of society. 

Eight strands of the study will cover its spread among schoolchildren, healthcare workers and the Charedi community, following the awarding of more than £5 million in funding.

The research will help inform policy decisions about the virus, including prevention strategies and containment measures, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) said.

One of the projects will focus on an Orthodox Jewish community to understand how its structures, such as household size, may contribute to transmission, including the role of children.

It will be led by Dr Michael Marks, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and will investigate the role of children, cross-protection from other types of coronavirus, asymptomatic transmission, household structure, and pre-existing conditions on transmission and burden of Covid-19 in the community.

In June, Jewish researchers declared a mysterious and unknown “Jewish factor” to explain the disproportionately high number of Jewish deaths from Covid-19, which has surpassed 500, amid a national toll of over 40,000.

Earlier this week, a rise in the number of cases was reported in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, which is home to the UK’s largest community. In July, Barnet Council highlighted an “increase in family clusters of cases in the Jewish Orthodox communities”, of the virus. 

Altogether, the research projects have been awarded a total of £5.3 million by the NIHR and UKRI.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty, who heads up the NIHR, said the projects will help with an understanding of how the virus spreads among key groups and in certain settings.

He said: “Understanding which factors are important in Covid-19 transmission and therefore how the disease spreads is important for targeting measures to control the pandemic.

“These eight new research projects funded by NIHR and UKRI will help us to understand transmission in a number of key groups and settings.”

Professor Fiona Watt, executive chairwoman of the Medical Research Council, which is part of UKRI, said it is hoped the results of the projects could help determine which settings might be low-risk.

She said: “We still don’t know enough about how and where SARS-CoV-2 is spread. This range of studies seeks to determine the risk of transmission in real-life settings, including schools and hospitals.

“The results will not only help us understand when to take extra precautions when necessary, but could also allow us to return to more social behaviour in settings where the risk is deemed low.”

The projects are part of a rolling call for research proposals on Covid-19, jointly funded by UKRI and NIHR, and follow others which are focused on treatments, vaccines, ethnicity and the impact of the virus on mental health.

The eight pieces of research are:

  • Coronavirus transmission in an Orthodox Jewish community
  • Covid-19 mapping and mitigation in schools
  • Tracking transmission by schoolchildren
  • Aerosolisation and transmission in healthcare settings
  • Transmission of coronavirus in hospitals versus in the community
  • Contribution of the workplace to risk of infection among healthcare workers
  • Infection rates in healthcare workers and how the immune system responds to infection
  • Transmission of coronavirus on surfaces in public places

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