press release
Published: 25 March 2020

What are Surrey academics saying about COVID - 19?

As the COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, we spoke to some of our experts here at Surrey about the pandemic and its impact on the population and society.

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

How has COVID-19 impacted on Brexit Negotiations?

Professor Simon Usherwood, from the School of Politics, explained:

“For many in the UK in recent years, Brexit has been the inescapable story and concern. A fundamental upheaval of political, economic and social organisation, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s taken a global pandemic to knock it firmly off the news agenda. And yet Brexit remains an unresolved and consequential process that cannot be ignored for too long.

“Most obviously, the smashing of the already-tight timetable for moving into a new UK-EU relationship means that there will have to be a decision about extending the current transition period. The government will have to judge whether the UK could stand failing to secure a deal by January 2021 when it’s still working through the massive aftershocks of coronavirus, both economic and political.

“Right now, that ever more trivial in a world of national lockdowns and the potential failure of basic social systems. The question will remain one of how much does this government consider getting this next stage of Brexit done to be more important than focusing its undivided attention on the crisis that it is in right now.”

The importance of Vitamin D and how we can get it when we are socially isolating 

Professor Sue Lanham-New and Dr Andrea Darling from the Department of Nutritional Sciences, said:

“Vitamin D can help prevent respiratory tract infections   so it is important to have good vitamin D levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, with social distancing we may be left uncertain as to how to get enough vitamin D.

“At this time of year it is possible to get a small amount of vitamin D by exposing face and hands to outdoor sunlight at around 12 noon, preferably on a clear day.  The Government has currently advised (as of 23rd March) that those not classified as vulnerable can go outside for a daily walk or exercise outdoors, if they stay more than 2 metres away from others. This is an opportunity to get some vitamin D. Spending time in their own garden may be another option for those who have been advised not to leave their home environment.

“We can also get vitamin D from our diet and from vitamin D supplements. The current Public Health England recommended vitamin D intake is 10 micrograms per day for everyone aged over 4 years. Safe intakes for infants aged under 1 year are 8.5-10 micrograms per day (those with an infant formula intake of at least 500ml per day do not need to take a vitamin D supplement). Safe intakes for children aged 1-4 years old are 10 micrograms per day.

“With stocks depleted in supermarkets it may not always be easy to get the full choice of vitamin D containing foods, including oily fish (e.g. sardines, mackerel, salmon), eggs, vitamin D fortified plant based milk alternatives, vitamin D fortified breakfast cereals and mushrooms. However, although still relatively low in vitamin D, these items can be helpful when available. Avoid taking high dose vitamin D supplements as vitamin D can be toxic in relatively large amounts.”

The above information was produced based on the current government advice on social distancing for everyone in the UK and protecting older people and vulnerable adults as of 23rd March 2020

Emergency Government powers

Nick Clapham from the School of Law explained:

“Parliament will shortly hand the Government new powers to deal with the coronavirus emergency.

“These will include the much publicised suggestion of the return to work of recently retired NHS staff and social workers together with more draconian powers such as those necessary to restrict or prohibit events and gatherings and to force school closures. It will also provide for the detention of those suspected of infection for the purpose of screening and assessment.

“Many have asked why the Government has not yet taken action on banning events or closing establishments such as bars and restaurants. The simple answer is that until now the Government has lacked the power to do any of these things.  In a liberal democracy the exercise of state power requires legal authority; unlike citizens who can generally do anything that the law does not prohibit, the Government can only do that which the law allows.

“Accordingly, the new legislation will provide the necessary legal authority for Government to act in ways that might otherwise be considered unlawful and draconian. Like all emergency legislation it is an attempt to balance liberty and necessity.”

Symptom perception and how we know if our symptoms are real?

Professor Jane Ogden from the School of Psychology explained:

 “Much as the serious symptoms of COVID 19 are clearly undisputable, those experienced in the early days following exposure to the virus are all too familiar and open to all the biases of symptom perception that influenced our daily lives way before this recent pandemic hit us.   And this process of symptom perception isn’t always helped by the constant bombardment by the media which can lead to health anxiety and hypervigilance which in turn make any symptom worse.

“Symptoms are clearly modified by mood (anxiety makes them worse) and cognition (being distracted make them better).  And in today’s world of coronavirus who can’t help but watch their body for changes, worry about their tickly throat and check their forehead for any hint of a fever.  All of which will also make these symptoms feel worse than they are. But symptoms are also contagious in more ways than just through the virus.

 “We live in strange times when we need to know whether we are ill or not to protect those who are more vulnerable.  But this process is not without its problems and whilst telling people to be vigilant of their symptoms may well help identify real symptoms of COVID 19 it may also exacerbate a whole load of more minor symptoms which would have been better ignored. This may lead to unnecessary self-isolation and pressure on work places such as schools when people stay at home.”

Ibuprofen and why the NHS has advised against taken it for symptoms of COVID-19?

Dr Ian Bailey from the School of Biosciences and Medicine explained:

“Drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin are anti-inflammatories and work by reducing the production of molecules called prostaglandins, which help to activate the immune response. These drugs can also help to reduce and control fever, being anti-pyretic. In some cases however, the anti-inflammatory activity can make the response to viral infection less effective, and the symptoms become worse. 

“Paracetamol does not have the same mechanism of action as ibuprofen, or at least does not reduce the production of prostaglandins to the same extent, and so does not present the same risk.  It is also an anti-pyretic, and can help control fever just as effectively as ibuprofen.  In many cases paracetamol may be more effective for the control of fever.

“We don’t have a large evidence base to make recommendations from yet, but there is some evidence that Covid-19 is a viral infection which may be worsened by the anti-inflammatory effects of ibuprofen, and so people should follow the NHS advice on this.

“It is important however, that anyone taking low dose (or cardiac) aspirin continues to do so unless told otherwise by their physician.  The low dose aspirin is important as an anti-coagulant to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and should have minimal effect on the immune system.”

Top tips on how to deal with anxiety during this time

Mary John, from the School of Psychology said:

“During these unusual circumstances it is normal to feel uncertain, anxious or stressed. 

“Here are some simple strategies that may help you to stay grounded and calm:

  • Do not watch excessive amounts of TV or listen to the radio too much
  • Take positive proactive steps to remain connected to those you appreciate, love and value
  • Take regular exercise
  • Make sure to keep your diet as healthy as possible
  • Continue to maintain a good work/life balance.

“Let’s recognise that when people self-isolate they can and should still be in contact with others through various technologies and social media platforms. If you decide to self-isolate make sure your friends and family know so they can check in on you.”

How to help those with mental health issues during this difficult time

Mary John, from the School of Psychology said:

“For those who have a mental health issue, this current situation could feel exceptionally threatening. These people will need their peers to be aware that they may be coping with additional stress and may need extra support.

“Further, these individuals are more likely to self-isolate, increasing their risk of depression -- so again, it is important that they remain in contact with their communities and access mental health services. Many psychological therapists will not be undertaking face-to-face therapy, but support is still available by phone and digital platforms.”





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