Loughborough-led study on the airborne transmission of Covid-19 helping to kick-start large-scale events

A new Loughborough University-led study will create clear guidance on how to design and operate non-domestic buildings to minimise the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19, and other viruses.

The government funded AIRBODS (Airborne Infection Reduction through Building Operation and Design for SARS-CoV-2) project will help get large-scale events back up and running, with trials currently taking place at several ‘test’ venues including the O2 arena and Wembley Stadium

Data collected from a nightclub event in Liverpool and the Crucible’s Snooker World Championship is already being analysed.

The 18-month study is being led by Loughborough’s Professor Malcolm Cook, in partnership with University College London, the University of Cambridge, the University of Nottingham, the University of Sheffield and London South Bank University.

Inadequate ventilation has been highlighted as a risk factor in terms of the possible airborne transmission of Covid-19 in buildings. AIRBODS aims to quantify the risk of this transmission through a combination of experimental work, measurement of environmental factors in buildings, and computer modelling.

The team are currently monitoring the indoor air quality and the movement of air at different locations around the test venues to try and understand the impact of ventilation, and then relate this to the number of people present at an event and the microbiological analysis of surfaces and air around the venue.

This data will enable the researchers to determine a Relative Exposure Index. Although this is not an absolute measure of the risk of transmission, it will enable building managers to gauge the risk of exposure relative to a benchmark case. The study will also provide advice and guidance on what ventilation measures can be taken to mitigate risk.

Speaking about the research, Professor Cook said: “Getting our lives back to some sense of normal following the pandemic is a huge challenge and doing it in a safe and measured way even more so.

“The large-scale events industry has been shut down for over a year. The work we are doing will help get these types of events and venues back up and running in a safe way, providing scientifically proven information and advice on ventilation and building management, to reduce the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19, and other viruses, as much as possible.

“But it will not only benefit this sector, it can be used in all non-domestic settings, including healthcare, education and retail. Our approach to the research will also mean the knowledge and tools we generate will be relevant for the mitigation of a wide range of airborne hazards across the spectrum of indoor environments for many years to come.

“The data we have already been able to collect from the events in Liverpool and Sheffield is proving very interesting and we look forward to learning as much as we can from it.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 21/67

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.