UNCOVER (Usher Network for COVid-19 Evidence Reviews)

UNCOVER team collaborate on review of public health measures in the BMJ

A new systematic review and meta-analysis has just been published in the BMJ, evaluating the effectiveness of public health measures - including hand-washing, mask-wearing and physical distancing - in reducing COVID-19 incidence, transmission and mortality.

The review was led by a team at Monash University, but a strong partnership with UNCOVER soon developed, as a team of six UNCOVER volunteers led by Professor Evropi Theodoratou became involved with delivering the review. The UNCOVER team included Dr Xue Li, Wei Xu, Dr Xiaomeng Zhang, Jasmin Rostron and Ashmika Motee. This partnership approach reflected the spirit of collaboration which has been central to UNCOVER's working model since the beginning.

The review contributes to an evidence-based understanding of the role played by public health measures in managing the impact of COVID-19. According to the BMJ:

"This review of the evidence on the effectiveness of both individual and multiple public health measures shows a substantial reduction in the incidence of covid-19 associated with mask wearing, physical distancing and handwashing.

"However, the researchers say more stringent measures, such as lockdowns and closures of borders, schools, and workplaces need further assessment to weigh their potential negative effects on general populations."

One of the key challenges encountered by the review team is the continuing lack of good-quality research studies on public health measures related to COVID-19. Without robust, reliable primary studies, the conclusions that we can draw through evidence synthesis remain tentative and limited. This fundamental issue was also explored at the UNCOVER Conference, and is a central concern for all of us who are working to support effective, evidence-based management of COVID-19 and its consequences.

This challenge was also highlighted in an Editorial accompanying the publication, which described the lack of high-quality studies as a 'pandemic tragedy', arguing:

"Considering the central importance of PHSMs for pandemic control, the uncertainties and controversies around their effects, and the immense research effort being put into vaccine and drug development, this lack of investment in public health measures is puzzling—at just 4% of global research funding for covid-19."

The full review and editorial can be read online via the BMJ:

Read the review.

Read the editorial.

This review, and other UNCOVER work related to the role of public health measures in managing COVID-19, can also be found on the Output section of our website:

Find UNCOVER reviews on non-pharmaceutical interventions.

The review has already attracted a significant amount of public engagement and interest, having been picked up by over 80 news outlets and featuring in more than 6,000 tweets already since it was published. While there has regrettably been some inevitable misrepresentation and over-simplification of the review findings as a result, we are pleased to be able to contribute rigorous and careful evidence to the ongoing public conversation about COVID-19. We are particularly pleased to share this thoughtful and balanced piece which was published by The Guardian:

UNCOVER's work featured in The Guardian.