The Alan Turing Institute and Royal Statistical Society will partner with the Department of Health and Social Care’s Joint Biosecurity Centre to provide further independent statistical modelling and machine learning expertise to support the government’s response to COVID-19.  

The partnership will bolster existing capabilities within the JBC, which has been a key arm in the UK’s fight against COVID-19, working with Public Health England colleagues to support the NHS Test and Trace programme in breaking chains of COVID-19 transmission.  

The Alan Turing Institute and RSS will provide independent insight and analysis of NHS Test and Trace data by setting up a new Statistical Modelling and Machine Learning Laboratory to grant the JBC deeper understanding of how the virus is spreading across the country and the epidemiological consequences. Statistical modelling helps data scientists to predict what the virus might do next, based on what is understood about it already. 

This extra support for statistical modelling will be brought together with the data science and public health expertise of the JBC to support COVID-19 decision-making at local and national levels.  

The JBC will work with The Alan Turing Institute and RSS to establish a virtual Statistical Modelling and Machine Learning Laboratory. The work done in the lab will formalise the Turing’s existing work with the JBC, adding capacity and further enhancing the depth and breadth of analysis done by the JBC, including:  

Helping to shape the JBC’s estimates of the current rate of spread in different areas and forecasting the future rate of spread. This means identifying more quickly where the virus is spreading and, in turn, lead to faster responses to control the spread. 

  • Increasing the depth of the JBC’s analysis of which factors appear to have the largest effect on the number of cases. This will support better forecasting of how the virus will likely spread around hotspots and greater insights into how we can control it. 
  • Further examination of the effects of the different interventions. This will build on our understanding of the effect and impact of our responses so far and in the future. 

Chris Holmes, The Alan Turing Institute’s Programme Director of Health and Medical Science, and Professor of Biostatistics at Oxford University, said: 

"The Turing is delighted to be playing a pivotal role in supporting the JBC by working to build an alliance with the RSS and academic experts to provide new insights in the evolving fight against COVID-19. In doing so, we will strengthen knowledge across the wider public health ecosystem.  

Through independent, open science, rigorous modelling and analysis we will provide further understanding of this issue to the public and wider scientific community."

Conclusion

The JBC is an integral part of the NHS Test and Trace service within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). Working in partnership with Public Health England (PHE), it is an important element of an evolving and strengthening health protection ecosystem in the UK. In the immediate term, the JBC’s objectives are to break the chains of COVID transmission to protect the public’s health. 

For further details about the JBC visit www.gov.uk

Read the full government announcement