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Royal Society to ramp up Covid-19 science policy input

Nearly 2,000 researchers volunteer for Rapid Assistance in Modelling the Pandemic initiative

The Royal Society says it has recruited 1,800 volunteer researchers to help with its recently launched initiative to model the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rapid Assistance in Modelling the Pandemic (Ramp) project is hoping to widen the pool of people who are feeding their experience into modelling work on Covid-19 and feed this into policy responses to the crisis.

“The science of Covid-19 is still emerging,” said Peter Bruce, vice president of the Royal Society. He added that in this “phase of partial knowledge” all science advice has to take that into account.

Volunteers for Ramp come from academia, businesses and other sectors of society, according to Mike Cates, chair of the project steering committee and professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge. If they can get a consensus using different modelling approaches, that would produce more confidence in interventions, the Ramp team hopes.

Cates said the “first priority” is to reinforce current UK modelling efforts.

To keep up with the huge volumes of research on Covid-19 already being generated, Ramp will have web-based discussion and peer review. And amid concerns about the openness of Covid-19 science advice, all the group’s findings will be openly available.

“We will publish our outputs,” said Bruce.

The team has already paired 70 volunteers with members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) team that feeds into government advice.

It has also added volunteers to a consortium of scientists at four Scottish institutions who are building new pandemic models.

Julia Gog, professor of mathematical biology at the University of Cambridge and member SPI-M, welcomed the initiative for bringing in reinforcements for those on SPI-M who have been working “flat out for months”.

Ramp will bring “extra people and extra ways of looking at this”, she said.