SOLVE magazine Issue 03 2021 | Page 5

Frontline research and innovation At the start of the COVID-19 ‘ first wave ’, the University of Portsmouth quickly assembled a response team from among its researchers . It turned its 3D printing facilities into a high-speed manufacturing hub for laser-cut , protective medical headwear . There were almost 1,000 downloads of the open-source design across the world . Portsmouth was also one of the first universities to set up on-campus COVID-19 testing and used advanced genomics to track the spread of the virus and provide critical data for vaccine researchers .
The University ’ s Faculty of Business and Law used its research and practical expertise to help businesses understand not just the evolving challenges , but also potential solutions and strategies . Peter Hooley , Director of Business Development , and Professor David Pickernell , Research Lead for the Strategy Enterprise and Innovation subject group and Professor of Small Business and Enterprise Development , surveyed businesses to find out what companies and employers most needed : “ Then , and now , it remains important to have a clear understanding of business needs , challenges and aspirations , and for this to be evidencebased ,” says Mr Hooley .
“ Data on the evolving and emerging business needs of the region will be critical to ensure the community directs its efforts where they are most needed .”
The prompt survey and its findings led the UK Government to allocate £ 700,000 to the University to improve small and medium enterprise leadership and productivity .
Senior Research Fellow in survival psychology , Dr John Leach , a former military psychologist , helped local health workers better understand psychological symptoms encountered by people in lockdown . This helped to inform coping mechanisms , particularly among already vulnerable groups .
If lockdowns become a periodic response to managing this or a future pandemic , as many virologists predict , the role of specialists like Dr Leach in developing practical techniques for regaining mental and emotional control will be crucial sources of support for community recovery everywhere . The British Academy study considers community cohesion an essential foundation for long-term recovery .
It also noted that inequalities between different socioeconomic groups and communities that existed prior to COVID-19 were amplified by the pandemic .
The stresses imposed by prolonged lockdowns , loss of jobs and homeschooling , for which many parents felt ill-equipped , have spilled – in many communities – into rising levels of alcohol and drug abuse , domestic violence and mental breakdown . This has had a particular impact on schoolaged children . Dr Emma Maynard , of the University ’ s School of Education and Sociology , has found children displaced from school to be one of the hardest hit groups : “ The impact of the pandemic has been absolutely seismic for young people ,” she says .
This includes older teenagers who , after years of being prepared for futuredefining final exams , were suddenly left instead with teacher assessments . It is yet to be seen how well accepted these will remain to employers .
In Big Brother ’ s shadow Another community fracture is a reported loss of trust in government . A study by the University shows the group most immediately exposed to this schism – which has serious consequences for future public health compliance – has been police . More than a third of police officers surveyed in the summer of 2020 and the 2020 – 21 winter said they had been abused or threatened when dealing with people during lockdowns .
Professor Sarah Charman from the University ’ s Institute of Criminal Justice Studies says the experience of enforcing lockdowns placed them in a ‘ no-win ’ situation , leaving many questioning their role : “ Perhaps more than any other profession , the police have had to contend with an unenviable list of thorny COVID-19-related issues ,” she says .
“ The pandemic has changed what the police do and how they do it , with potential long-lasting consequences for the relationship between the public and the police , and for officers themselves .”
Allied to this law-and-order backdrop is the emergence of ‘ big data ’ and privacy issues . The British Academy study noted how the rapid introduction of technologies such as contact tracing apps has pushed the boundaries of what people may normally consider to be acceptable levels of surveillance and data collection .
Health authorities say such technology will need ongoing development to obtain accurate and thorough data on mortality and demographics , infection rates and transmission for different groups ; all needed as a basis for future research and preparedness .
There are obvious trust and governance issues surrounding the increasing datafication of health , as well as the development of public – private health data partnerships which have formed in response to COVID-19 .
Looking ahead , the experience of the past 18 months , throughout the UK and internationally , has seen a renewed awareness of scientific research , education and skills , with a particular emphasis on the need from here on to increase people ’ s employment flexibility .
In keeping with the globally popular exhortation to ‘ build back better ’ many see a high-skill economy as essential for future prosperity and for society to thrive . This has significant implications for education and an expectation already that – perhaps more than any previous period in history – education may need to be structured as a lifelong process to allow people to keep pace with fast-changing economic and technological shifts .
After almost two years of global upheaval – at the centre of which has been the horrifying , heartbreaking death toll of close to four million people – there is some hope . The worldwide response to developing and disseminating several vaccines has been a technical marvel that also proved wise enough to anticipate socio-economic barriers to distribution ; barriers that arise from global inequalities that can no longer be tolerated . It shows that a better , safer , fairer society might be possible if the same will , wisdom and effort can now be put into other challenges . Awaiting us are socioeconomic inequalities and environmental ills with existential implications . We are at a fork in the road ; challenged to better ourselves and with that comes the hope of renewal and an evolution for the better .
ISSUE 03 / 2021