The University of Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science has developed a tool which uses demographic data to identify areas of England and Wales which could disproportionately suffer from COVID-19 infections. The tool will supplement track and trace technology.

The Isle of Wight and Lincolnshire are predicted to have some of the highest risk factors due to their aged populations and comparatively high levels of social deprivation. It also considers other potential vulnerabilities like age, social deprivation, population density, ethnicity, and hospital resources.

The article published in BMC Medicine in conjunction with this tool argues that “as countries across the globe exit strict lockdown and enter the ‘new normal’ of co-existence with COVID-19, monitoring new infection hotspots will be crucial” before concluding that “as this pandemic continues to unfold across the world, we urgently need to consider how emerging socio-demographic risks such as social deprivation, ethnicity and population density structure spatial differences in COVID-19 severity and health care demand.”

The tool had previously indicated that Harrow, in London, was likely to have an extremely high rate of hospitalisations due to COVID-19. Harrow’s Northwick Park Hospital was the first hospital in the UK to call for a national emergency due to a lack of capacity early in the pandemic.

The lead author of the study, Mark Verhagen, claims that “by using our online tool, policymakers 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.”

Researchers say that the dashboard is accurate on a very local level, giving policymakers the knowledge to target resources towards the most at-risk areas. Online maps have been produced through the tool which can be viewed at the levels of administrative region, ceremonial county, clinical commissioning group, and lower layer super output area.

Professor Melinda Mills, author and Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science, said that “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.”