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Griffiths Medal awarded to researchers for COVID-19 transmission study

14 December 2023

Professor Paul Harper, Research Student Joshua Moore and Senior Lecturer Thomas Woolley, from the School of Mathematics, receiving an award from Dr Gilbert Owusu, the President of the Operational Research Society.

The Griffiths Medal, presented by The Operational Research Society, has recently been awarded to a team of researchers from Cardiff University for their contribution to the field of health systems.

Professor Paul Harper, Senior Lecturer Thomas Woolley, and Research Student Joshua Moore, from the School of Mathematics, received the award on December 7 at the Royal Society, London, for their exceptional work in the journal Health Systems with their paper  ‘Covid-19 Transmission Modelling of Students Returning Home from University.’

The research provided valuable insights into the transmission of COVID-19 by students returning home from university. The researchers estimated the number of secondary COVID-19 infections that could occur when potentially infectious students interact with other occupants in private homes, and they also developed an online app that policymakers used to estimate secondary infections based on local parameter values.

The study played a significant role in shaping Welsh Government policy during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially concerning the movement of university students. The research informed decisions related to the firebreak (lockdown) in October/November and the Christmas holidays in 2020/21. The research underscored the potential for a high number of secondary infections and offered insights into strategies to mitigate them. These strategies included advising students to avoid mixing in the days leading up to departure, implementing staggered departure times, and conducting mass testing of students before they returned home.

The research also influenced a key decision by the then Education Minister Kirsty Williams, who encouraged Welsh universities to transition to online teaching from December 8, 2020, allowing time for students to be tested before going home. These findings and decisions were shared with colleagues in the English Government, Scottish Government, and Northern Ireland Executive, contributing to the development of nationwide policies regarding student travel during the pandemic.

Paul Harper, Professor of Operational Research, at the School of Mathematics said, “On behalf of Thomas, Joshua, and myself, we are delighted to have received this award. Our research aimed to contribute valuable insights into the transmission of COVID-19 among university students, and we are grateful for the recognition and the opportunity to make a positive impact during the challenging times of the pandemic.

"We are also honoured to have received this award named after Professor Jeff Griffiths. Jeff is an Honorary Distinguished Research Professor in our school and the award has been named in recognition of his many years of outstanding achievements and service in our field of healthcare modelling and operational research."

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