Driving policy around the COVID-19 pandemic

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Policy briefs exploring the impact of COVID-19 on people and the planet have been published by researchers from UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit.

During the global pandemic, children’s lives were changed by both the presence of the virus and measures put in place to control it e.g., closure of schools and play spaces, move to online learning, and social distancing. The Voices in a Pandemic project (VIP-CLEAR) highlighted the importance of capturing children’s voices, which are often missed, about the impacts of these mitigations on their lives.

The interdisciplinary research team from UWE Bristol (which included 3 members of the Science Communication Unit) used arts-based methods to capture the experiences of children in six schools in socially disadvantaged areas of Bristol.  The first of these activities asked them to ‘map their world’ as the country emerged from the third national lockdown. This process gave children the time and space to reflect on this period of their lives. Their drawings showed how diverse their experiences were; some children enjoyed spending time with their family, but others found it difficult being separated from key support networks, and friends and family members. It was particularly hard for those who were dealing with existing challenges around space, food, money and resources. It is likely that children will experience further social shocks (e.g., pandemics, climate change) and the mapping policy brief outlines ways in which schools, community services, local government and public health teams can support children to cope with these intangible threats.  A primary book and teacher’s notes have also been co-created by the project artist in collaboration with the academic researcher team.   ‘Learning to Live with Fog Monsters’ is available digitally and in hardcopy, and aims to engage children with these complex topics.

The Future Brief COVID-19 and the environment: links, impacts and lessons learned, meanwhile, brings together research that highlights how the risk of zoonotic disease and pandemics is increased through human activities such as industrialised agriculture and land-use change. The policy brief, produced by Science for Environment Policy (based in the Science Communication Unit) for the EU Directorate-General of the Environment, also highlights how climate change and the wildlife trade are increasing the risk of emerging infectious diseases that may jump from animals to humans.

The brief emphasises the importance of the One Health Approach, which recognises that environment, wildlife and human health are interdependent. Since the risk of zoonotic disease increases where humans encroach on wildlife habitat, global hotspots of high risk have been identified by researchers working in this field. Minimising the risk is another task; this will rely on actions that improve the sustainability of farming, land use and our interactions with wildlife.

The brief also offers an overview of findings on the environmental impacts of the pandemic – from changing air quality as the world locked down, to increased volumes of single-use plastic and PPE littering beaches. Mass action can change behaviour to be kinder to the environment – can we harness the shock wave of COVID to inspire a green recovery? The brief was produced before the war in Ukraine, which has of course had huge effects on the energy landscape in the EU, but the message stands that addressing climate change and environmental degradation should not be overshadowed by economics but be integral to a sustainable future.

Although national and world events in 2022 have turned our attention away from the pandemic and its effects, the VIP-CLEAR project and the Future Brief show that it is crucial we reflect on the events of the last three years, to learn lessons, to understand and support those affected, and look to a resilient future.

Amanda D Webber and Caroline Weaver

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