New tool isolates potential future coronavirus hotspots

Social distancing advice on the pavement in Leicester, as the city’s spike in coronavirus cases has sparked a report that it
Social distancing advice on the pavement in Leicester, as the city’s spike in coronavirus cases has sparked a report that it may be the first UK location to be subjected to a district lockdown.

Researchers have created a tool that allows potential coronavirus hotspots to be identified.

The system can supplement test and trace technology by highlighting which regions and local areas are most likely to suffer disproportionate potential infections and hospital demand in case of future infection spikes.

The online tool from Oxford University’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science combines key data from multiple sources of known Covid-19 vulnerabilities, such as age, social deprivation, population density, ethnicity and hospital resources.

Researchers say the dashboard is accurate to a granular local level, enabling policymakers to target resources to the most at-risk areas.

It also allows users to adjust for changing infection rates and hospital resource levels.

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

For example, the tool shows that Harrow in London would have been a local area with an exceptionally high age-related risk of hospital admissions due to Covid-19.

The Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow was also the first to declare a critical incident after experiencing a surge in coronavirus patients.

Mark Verhagen, lead author of the study, said: “By using our online tool, policymakers would immediately have identified Harrow as a potential hotspot of hospital demand.

“Ensuring that local decisionmakers have this type of fine-grained information available was a key goal of this study.”

According to the study, published in BMC Medicine, 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.

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

The article concludes: “As this pandemic continues to unfold across the world, we urgently need to consider how emerging sociodemographic risks, such as social deprivation, ethnicity and population density, structure spatial differences in Covid-19 severity and health care demand.”

The researchers have produced online maps to identify the most at-risk areas in England and Wales.

The research suggests that areas such as the Isle of Wight and Lincolnshire have some of the highest risk factors, as they not only have older populations but also higher levels of social deprivation.

According to the report, the researchers estimate specific pressure points where Covid-19 demand is likely to outstrip the baseline local supply.

This includes rural areas in Wales as well as the north-east and south-west of England, where high expected hospitalisation rates combine with relatively low bed capacity.

These areas are often more isolated and further away from alternative hospital services, the report indicates.

Meanwhile, London and other inner-city areas, from Birmingham to Manchester and Liverpool, are highlighted as areas of high population density and deprivation, which have potentially higher risk levels for additional outbreaks.

However, although population-based hospitalisation risk tends to be lower in urban centres, some localities in cities may have higher levels of social deprivation and population density, which could counterbalance relatively low age-related risk levels.

:: The tool is available at


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