Study to research role of delivery workers in preventing COVID-19 transmission

Mon, 27 Apr 2020 16:59:00 BST

The University of Manchester is to carry out one of 21 new studies into the novel coronavirus funded by the UK Government.

Professor Martie van Tongeren and Dr Hua Wei will lead a £300,000 study into the role of gig workers and delivery supply chains in preventing disease transmission.

The team will be working with companies in this sector to collect data on deliveries to construct mathematical models. The models will determine how the delivery sector contributes to minimising the risk of spreading the disease They will also set out the impact of additional measures to protect the workers and reduce infection risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study will inform the UK’s policy making in social distancing and coordination of supply chains as a key component of national response to pandemics.

This second round of projects receive £14.1 million as part of the £24.6 million rapid research response funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and by the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

Professor Martie van Tongeren said: “With surging numbers of total confirmed cases and deaths, the UK has entered the most stringent social distancing period in its history. Home-isolation and lockdown are necessary for preventing infectious disease transmission, with many of our basic needs provided by platform companies and delivery workers. So home deliveries of food, groceries and products in the UK has rocketed since the COVID19 outbreak, and huge spikes in demand have been reported by supermarkets, online grocers and food delivery services.”

He added: “Delivery drivers are rightly considered to be essential workers, and deserve to be protected from exposure to the virus during their work. We aim to work with companies in this sector to assess how this sector contributes to minimising the risk of spreading the disease and the benefits of additional measures to protect the workers.”

Dr Wei said: “This sector plays a vital role in reinforcing the infection control measures and reducing public anxiety by keeping logistics functioning and services and supplies available. We aim to understand how delivery workers many of whom are gig workers, have contributed to suppressing transmission by increased delivery to households. We also consider the possibility that they could become a route of transmission without adequate protection.”

The project will run over a maximum 12-month period, ensuring timely insights into the current epidemic.

The research funding has been coordinated with other funders and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure there is not duplication of effort and expertise is applied strategically.

Jonathan Sheffield, NIHR Covid-19 Research Operations Director, said: "In just a few weeks the UK's health and science communities have risen to the challenges presented by Covid-19 in deeply inspiring ways. Alongside the selfless work being done by our amazing frontline NHS staff, our world-leading research community is also putting its cutting-edge expertise to use in myriad ways. Though the studies announced today may vary in theme, they all represent some of the best and brightest scientific research into Covid-19 being done anywhere in the world."