Imperial College London

Prof Robin Shattock on coronavirus vaccine

Andrew Marr spoke to the Imperial College Professor Robin Shattock

Imperial to axe 75 ICT staff

Local Democracy Reporting Service

Leading COVID-19 response scientists at Imperial College London have spoken out against the university’s plan to sack 75 of its ICT staff.

More than 150 ICT support staff at the prestigious West London university have been told their jobs are at risk, and that half of those roles will be axed.

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) said the redundancies have been planned since before the pandemic arrived. Imperial’s scientists took a leading role in advising the Government on how the pandemic would affect the country.

Many of them continue to work from home, which has seen demand for ICT assistance go up.

COVID-19 Response Team member, Dr Samir Bhatt, is currently advising the state of New York as it comes out of lockdown: “For weeks now, all of our COVID-19 response work has had to be done remotely.

“It goes without saying that our work is of significant public health importance, both within the UK and around the world, and it would have been impossible without the Imperial ICT staff and their heroic efforts in the midst of incredibly trying circumstances.”

Another member of the team, Dr Seth Flaxman, senior lecturer in statistical machine learning and senior author of multiple reports into the pandemic, said: “My team has published a major paper in Nature quantifying lives saved by lockdown, for which we relied heavily on specialised computing services supported by Imperial’s ICT staff.”

UCU says Imperial chiefs hope the redundancy process will take eight months and save £2 million a year.

Why some birds are long-distance fliers and others prefer short-haul

Arctic tern
Getty Images

The shape of its wing can provide clues as to which birds are long-distance travellers and which ones are short-range fliers, according to research led by the University of Bristol.

Analysis of 10,000 avian species has shown birds living in high-latitude areas are better equipped for long-haul flights than their tropical cousins living near the equator.

The researchers believe birds' wings may have adapted to the environment and behaviour of the species, meaning not all creatures are able to fly long distances unless their wings have specifically evolved for this feat.

A global team of researchers, led by the University of Bristol and Imperial College London, measured the wings of 45,801 birds in museums and field sites around the world.

They said that three key factors - temperature variability, territory defence and migration - were found to play a role in how well birds' wings adapted for long-haul flights.

Dr Catherine Sheard, from the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences and lead author on the study, said: "Given the role we know dispersal plays in evolutionary processes...we suspect this relationship between behaviour, the environment, and dispersal may be shaping other aspects of biodiversity."

University to bring snorkels into the fight against Covid-19

Sam Francis

BBC News, London

Face masks
Imperial College London

Researchers at one of London's top universities have been awarded funding to create experimental adaptors allowing snorkels to be used by frontline healthcare workers.

Scientists and Engineers at Imperial College London are hoping to create connectors using 3D printers that would allow snorkels, or similar facemasks, to be used during higher risk procedures and highly infectious environments, such as A&Es.

Snorkels "are ideal as they provide a breathing filter as well as full eye protection", A spokesman for Imperial College said.

They are also fully cleanable and reusable, and therefore can be used where there are shortages of normal masks.

If the designs are successful the team will make their findings freely available for the international community to replicate the printing process.

Dr Ricardo Petraco, a Consultant Cardiologist who is leading the research, said: “We hope to have national and global impact on the coronavirus pandemic by significantly improving the safety level of healthcare workers.”

The project is being funded by Imperial College London’s donor-backed COVID-19 Response Fund.

Face masks
Imperial College London

Imperial College to furlough staff and cut pay

Imperial College London, whose research has played a key role in the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis, has announced plans to limit recruitment and furlough staff.

Imperial College, London
PA Media

University president, Professor Alice Gast and provost Professor Ian Walmsley, said they have volunteered to take a 20% pay cut as they announced plans to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic.

"The immediate need, as we face threats to enrolments and the financial burden of the shutdown, is to look for ways to conserve cash in the coming year.

"We have already taken important decisions to suspend starting or approving new capital projects, limiting ongoing staff recruitment and identifying roles eligible for the furloughing scheme. We need to consider further measures," the said in a letter to staff.

Oxford University has also announced similar measures and will freeze recruitment for the next 12 months in a bid to protect its finances amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, vice-chancellors warned that universities were likely to face "financial failure" amid the Covid-19 crisis without emergency funding of at least £2 billion from the government.

Universities UK (UUK) said the sector could face major financial risks in the next academic year amid a predicted sharp fall in international students and a rise in home student deferrals.

'Maintain social distancing until vaccine is found'

Today Programme

BBC Radio 4

Prof Neil Ferguson
Imperial College London

Imperial College London academic Prof Neil Ferguson has warned that social distancing would have to be maintained regardless until a vaccine was found.

Prof Ferguson, who has helped shape the government's response to the pandemic, told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme the UK was "starting to see plateauing".

He added: "We will have to maintain some level of social distancing, a significant level of social distancing, probably indefinitely until we have a vaccine available."

Prof Ferguson said it will take several more days for the pace of deaths to drop and more weeks to draw definitive conclusions that could allow restrictions to be lifted.

"I'm reminded by the fact we had a Department for Brexit for Government - that was a major national emergency," Prof Ferguson said.

"As it were - and we're faced with something which is, at the moment, even larger than Brexit and yet I don't see quite the same evidence for that level of organisation.

"If we relax measures too much then we'll see a resurgence of transmission.

"What we really need is the ability to put something in their place. If we want to open schools, let people get back to work, then we need to keep transmission down in another manner."