Nuffield research on COVID-19

08 Apr 20

Nuffield research on COVID-19

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Nuffield members and their colleagues have been using social science methods to examine some of the big questions about the spread of COVID-19.

[Last updated Wednesday 15 July 2020, 15:20]

For example, Nuffield Fellow Melinda Mills and the team at the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science are collating demographic evidence to inform our understanding of the transmission of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and fatalities. Among many other sources, they also analyse data collected by Nuffield Associate Member Max Roser with colleagues Hannah Ritchie and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina from Our World in Data on their dedicated coronavirus webpage.

Some of the research being undertaken by Nuffield Fellows includes:

  • Potential future coronavirus hotspots (28 June)

In a new paper in BMC Medicine, Nuffield DPhil Mark Verhagen and colleagues from the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science (including Nuffield Fellows David Brazel and Melinda Mills) highlight the areas at risk of a future spike in cases of COVID-19 using their online tool.

This research has also been covered on the University of Oxford news pages.

(Mark Verhagen, David Brazel, Jennifer Beam Dowd, Ilya Kashnitsky, Melinda Mills, 'Forecasting spatial, socioeconomic and demographic variation in COVID-19 health care demand in England and Wales'. Published in BMC Medicine, doi:10.1186/s12916-020-01646-2)

  • The effectiveness of facemasks (26 June)

In a preprint for The Royal Society and The British Academy, Melinda Mills, Charles Rahal and colleagues the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science review the existing scientific literature on the effectiveness of face coverings, as well as behavioural and policy implications.

The report was picked up by many UK news outlets including The Guardian (8 July and 13 July), The Financial Times (10 July), BBC News (11 July) and talkRADIO (14 July) and has been cited as one of the catalysts for the British government's decision to make face masks compulsory in shops. For more information, see the University's news story 'Face coverings made compulsory after Oxford COVID-19 study inspires debate' (14 July 2020) and this piece in The Financial Times Alphaville (10 July 2020).

(Melinda Mills, Charles Rahal and Evelina Akimova, 'Face masks and coverings for the general public: Behavioural knowledge, effectiveness of cloth coverings and public messaging'. Published as a Royal Society and British Academy Preprint.)

  • Geographic variation in mortality in England (26 June)

Nuffield Fellows Richard Breen and John Ermisch look at data from 1 March to 31 May 2020, finding links between population density, ethnicity and COVID-19 mortality rates. They also find that higher mortality rates also 'spillover' into neighbouring areas.

(Richard Breen, John Ermisch, 'The Distributional Impact of Covid-19: Geographic Variation in Mortality in England'. Published as a working paper.)

  • Work that can be done from home (16 June)

Nuffield Associate Abi Adams-Prassl and co-writers - including Nuffield DPhil Marta Golin - look at the variation in workers’ ability to perform their tasks from home across countries, occupations, industries and workers’ characteristics.

(Abi Adams-Prassl, Teodora Boneva, Marta Golin, Christopher Rauh, 'Work that can be done from home: Evidence on variation within and across occupations and industries'. Published as an IZA Discussion Paper 13374.)

  • What is the possible pandemic course in Africa? (11 June)

Compiling information from World Health Organisation data, the authors of a paper published in Nature Medicine - including Nuffield Associate Jennifer Beam Dowd and Nuffield Fellow Melinda Mills - examine the likely course of the pandemic in the 18 countries of the African Research Network as well as Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya.

The paper was featured on the University of Oxford's website (11 June 2020), with comment from Melinda Mills.

(Bamba Gaye et al., and Jennifer Beam DowdMelinda C. Mills, 'Socio-demographic and epidemiological consideration of Africa’s COVID-19 response: what is the possible pandemic course?'. Published by Nature Medicine, doi:10.1038/s41591-020-0960-y.)

  • Social network-based distancing strategies to flatten the COVID-19 curve in a post-lockdown world (4 June)

Nuffield Associate members alongside current Fellows Charles Rahal, Ridhi Kashyap and Melinda Mills examine the efficacy of three different distancing strategies using social networks in 'keeping the curve' of coronavirus deaths and infections flat.

The paper was covered on the University of Oxford's website. Models examined in the paper - including results and graphs - were featured in a piece by UK Parliament Post on 'Light switches and clusters: social distancing strategies for COVID-19' (7 May 2020).

(Per Block, Marion Hoffman, Isabel J. Raabe, Jennifer Beam Dowd, Charles Rahal, Ridhi Kashyap, Melinda C. Mills, 'Social network-based distancing strategies to flatten the COVID 19 curve in a post-lockdown world', 4 June 2020. Published in Nature Human Behaviour (2020) doi: 10.1038/s41562-020-0898-6)

  • The impact of COVID-19 on Ethiopian women in the garment industry (2 June)

This working paper, co-written by Nuffield Fellow Christian Meyer, documents the way the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Ethiopian women working in the country's largest industrial park.

(Eyoual Demeke, Morgan Hardy, Gisella Kagy, Christian Meyer, Marc Witte, 'The Impact of COVID-19 on the Lives of Women in the Garment Industry: Evidence from Ethiopia'. Published as a Living Paper by OSF.)

  • The individual effects of the COVID-19 economic shock (4 Jun)

Nuffield Fellow Hamish Low and co-authors use data collected in a COVID-19 survey of existing members of the 'Understanding Society' study to document the different effects of the COVID-19 economic shock on different types of worker.

Their findings were reported on in The Guardian ('BAME and single-parent families worst hit financially by Covid-19', 7 June 2020) and The Daily Mail ('BAME workers have suffered the most financial hardship since coronavirus pandemic began - as well as being among most at risk from disease', 7 June 2020).

(Michaela Benzeval et al. and Hamish Low, 'The idiosyncratic impact of an aggregate shock: the distributional consequences of COVID-19'. Published as a Department of Economics, University of Oxford Working Paper 911)

  • Trust in science and experts during COVID-19 in Italy (8 May)

Nuffield Fellows Ridhi Kashyap and Valentina Rotondi with co-author Pietro Battiston examine the changing pattern of trust in experts and science in Italy during the pandemic. 

(Pietro Battiston, Ridhi KashyapValentina Rotondi, 'Trust in Science and Experts During the COVID-19 Outbreak in Italy', 8 May 2020. Published as an OSF preprint, doi:10.31219/

  • Mapping lockdown to Brexit data (28 April)

Nuffield Fellow Ben Ansell has brought together Google Community Mapping data for the UK and the UK's Brexit voting data in this GitHub to allow political scientists to map the UK lockdown along political lines.

The data can be used for a range of applications. See, for example, this paper by Ben published by The UK in a Changing Europe on differences in social distancing. Ben also wrote on this subject for The Times ('Who's respecting social distancing more, Leavers or Remainers?', 7 May 2020).

(Ben Ansell, 'What explains differences in social distancing in the UK?', 28 April 2020. Published by The UK in a Changing Europe.)

  • Inequality in the impact of coronavirus (28 April)

A working paper and a set of briefing notes – for the UK and the US (published 1 April) – by Nuffield Associate Member Abi Adams-Prassl and co-authors, including Nuffield DPhil in Economics Marta Golin – about the unequal impact of the economic shock of coronavirus.

(Abi Adams-Prassl, Teodora Boneva, Marta Golin, Christopher Rauh, ‘Inequality in the Impact of Coronavirus Shock: Evidence from Real-Time Surveys’, 28 April 2020. Published as a working paper.)

  • Now-casting hospitalised COVID-19 deaths in England (17 April)

The number of deaths reported in the media comes with a reporting delay. Nuffield Fellow Bent Nielsen has been working on 'now-casting' recent deaths with colleague Sheila Bird.

(Sheila Bird, Bent Nielsen, 'Now-casting of COVID-19 deaths in English hospitals', 17 April 2020.)

  • Demography and age-specific mortality for COVID-19 (16 April)

Above: Animation of Expected deaths by total population (per 1,000) and proportion of total population by age group for Italy, USA and Nigeria, with varying levels of infection rates from 0% to 100%.

Deaths from COVID-19 have been concentrated at older ages. By examining the role of age structure in deaths in Italy and South Korea, Jennifer Dowd (Deputy Director of the Leverhulme Centre and Nuffield Associate) and co-authors – including current and former Nuffield Fellows and students – illustrate how the pandemic could unfold in populations with similar population sizes but different age structures, showing a higher burden of mortality in countries with older versus younger populations.

The article was picked up by the international press whilst published as a working paper in March. For a summary, see for example:

(Jennifer Dowd, Valentina Rotondi, Liliana Andriano, David M. Brazel, Per Block, Xuejie Ding, Yan Liu, Melinda C. Mills, 'Demographic science aids in understanding the spread and fatality rates of COVID-19', 16 April 2020. PNAS, doi: 10.1073/pnas.2004911117)

  • Short-term forecasting of COVID-19 deaths (13 April)

This online forecasting tool for coronavirus deaths over the short-term has been compiled by members of the Climate Econometrics team, alumna Jennifer Castle (DPhil Economics 2003, Research Fellow 2006-2009) and Nuffield Fellows Jurgen Doornik and David Hendry.

For more from Jennifer, Jurgen and David on the utility of forecasting in these times, see this piece on VoxEU, their entry on the Institute for New Economic Thinking's coronavirus blog post and their letter to the Financial Times.

They have also written a piece for The Conversation about 'Why short-term forecasts can be better than models for predicting how pandemics evolve' (30 June 2020).

  • Do people lie about social distancing? (8 April)

Using two separate surveys of Danish citizens, this working paper co-authored by Nuffield DPhil student Jacob Nyrup with colleagues Martin Larsen and Michael Bang Petersen looks at whether individuals under-report their non-compliance to lockdown restrictions.

(Martin Larsen, Michael Bang Petersen and Jacob Nyrup, 'Do Survey Estimates of the Public’s Compliance with COVID-19 Regulations Suffer from Social Desirability Bias?', 8 April 2020. Published as a PsyArXiv Preprint, doi: 10.31234/

  • Parenting in a time of COVID-19 (25 March)

Nuffield Fellow Lucy Cluver and collaborators have produced a set of evidence-based resources for parents dealing with school closures and the increased strain of global coronavirus lockdowns, available online via the World Health Organisation.

(Lucy Cluver et al., ‘Parenting in a time of COVID-19’, 25 March 2020. Published in The Lancet, doi: 10.1016/ S0140-6736(20)30736-4)

  • Mapping hospital demand in England and Wales (21 March)

Based on local demography, available hospital resources and COVID-19 increased risk factors such as age, the Leverhulme Centre’s team have identified parts of England and Wales that are at higher risk of being overwhelmed by the coronavirus health care burden.

They also provide an online tool that can be used by policymakers to identify and monitor high-risk areas and to predict the expected healthcare demand in real-time as the actual epidemic spreads.

(Mark Verhagen, David Brazel, Jennifer Dowd, Ilya Kashnitsky, Melinda Mills, ‘Predicting peak hospital demand: demographics, spatial variation, and the risk of “hospital deserts” during COVID-19 in England and Wales’, 21 March 2020. Posted on the Open Science Framework, doi: 10.31219/


Expert comment from Nuffield members:

Nuffield Fellows and students have also been giving expert comment on subjects relating to coronavirus, including: