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Woman in Canary Wharf, London, during coronavirus pandemic

Covid-19 dashboard forecasts local ‘pressure points’ across UK

Image credit: REUTERS/Simon Dawson

Researchers from Oxford University’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science have created an online tool which combines data from multiple sources and identifies likely Covid-19 “pressure points”.

The tool could be used to supplement the government’s somewhat-troubled test and trace strategy by identifying local areas which are likely to suffer outbreaks of coronavirus and therefore may require extra resources and stricter measures.

This could allow for highly-localised responses to coronavirus outbreaks as lockdown measures are relaxed nationwide, such as is being mooted for Leicester today after a recent surge in confirmed cases in that area.

“With additional outbreaks and second waves, thinking not only regionally but at much smaller scale, at the neighbourhood level, will be the most effective approach to stifle and contain outbreaks, particularly when a lack of track and trace is in place,” said Professor Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre.

The new tool - a Covid-19 'dashboard' - is accurate to a granular local level. For instance, the tool demonstrates that Harrow in London would have seen a very high age-related risk of hospital admissions due to the virus; Harrow’s Northwick Park Hospital was the first to declare a critical incident after experiencing a surge of Covid-19 patients.

Mark Verhagen, lead author of the BMC Medicine study describing the creation of the tool, commented: “By using our online tool, policy makers would immediately have identified Harrow as a potential hotspot of hospital demand. Ensuring that local decision makers have this type of fine-grained information available was a key goal of this study.”

The dashboard pulls together data relating to various Covid-19 vulnerabilities (age, social deprivation, population density, ethnicity and hospital resources) from various sources to generate risk maps divided up by region, county or NHS clinical commissioning group. It permits users to adjust for varying infection rates and hospital resource levels.

The dashboard suggests that people living in areas such as the Isle of Wight and Lincolnshire have particularly high hospitalisation risk due to broadly older populations and high levels of social deprivation.

Pressure points where hospitals could be overwhelmed include rural parts of Wales, as well as areas in the North East and South West of England, where there is relatively low hospital bed capacity and hospital services are sparse. Parts of London and other densely populated cities are identified by the dashboard as areas of high population density and deprivation, which could be at high risk of additional outbreaks.

The authors wrote in their paper: “We identify potential healthcare pressure points in England and Wales where expected hospitalisation rates are disproportionately high and the per capita availability of hospital beds is relatively low.”

Anyone can access the Covid-19 dashboard online.

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