Eight new research projects investigating the transmission of coronavirus have been awarded a total of £5.3 million by the NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), in the hope that findings will help shape COVID-19 policy decisions on prevention and containment.

The projects are researching how the virus spreads in schoolchildren, healthcare workers and a strictly-Orthodox Jewish community, as well as in medical settings and on surfaces in public spaces.

A key question mark remains over the role of children in the spread of the virus, with more data urgently needed in this area to help schools operate safely.

Two of the newly funded research projects are looking at the role schoolchildren play in coronavirus transmission, with one group of researchers mapping spread of the virus in schools in Bristol, and another working to identify how symptomatic or asymptomatic children transmit the virus and how long they are infectious.

Given that healthcare workers have a high risk of exposure to coronavirus, particularly from aerosols generated during some medical procedures, another of the newly funded projects will assess the amount, type and infectiousness of aerosol generated during a variety of procedures.

Also, as transmission of coronavirus in healthcare settings “is likely to have had a considerable role in the spread of the pandemic in the UK,” NIHR and the UKRI are funding two studies investigating how transmission in healthcare settings compares with that among the general public.

A separate multidisciplinary research project will test different surfaces and coatings that may kill coronavirus, to develop new approaches to prevent transmission in public spaces, as the virus can survive on some hard surfaces for up to three days.

The Orthodox Jewish community has experienced a high number of COVID-19 cases, and so one of the newly funded projects will work with one such community to understand how community structures, such as household size, might contribute to transmission, including the role of children.

“Understanding which factors are important in COVID-19 transmission and therefore how the disease spreads is important for targeting measures to control the pandemic,” said Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England and head of the NIHR.

“These eight new research projects funded by NIHR and UKRI will help us to understand transmission in a number of key groups and settings.”

“We still don’t know enough about how and where SARS-CoV-2 is spread. This range of studies seeks to determine the risk of transmission in real life settings, including schools and hospitals. The results will not only help us understand when to take extra precautions when necessary, but could also allow us to return to more social behaviour in settings where the risk is deemed low,” added Professor Fiona Watt, executive chair of the Medical Research Council, part of UKRI.