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UCL Geography and Covid-19


It has long been recognised that epidemics and pandemics are geographical problems, with several dimensions. First, their spread is never universal. Disease is clustered in specific regions, and particular urban districts and locations, and affects the population in uneven ways. The spread of disease needs to be both traced statistically, but also mapped geographically. Second, geographers have been attentive to ways in which pandemics are global problems, with markedly different and unequal consequences for health and social and economic life in different parts of the world. Third, geographical research attends to the relation between wider political and economic transformations and structures and the spread of disease. Fourth, there is growing geographical interest in the political and economic geography of scientific expertise, including the practice of contact tracing, tracking, testing, vaccine trials and development. Finally, the covid-19 pandemic has disruptive and unpredictable consequences that are comparable in scale to major geopolitical events such as wars and revolutions. In this light, the pandemic demands that we address the critical role of physical and biological processes and nonhuman agencies (from climate change to viruses) in human history. Research in UCL Geography is shedding light on all of these aspects of the covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Ayona Datta (Professor of Human Geography) has been examining the redeployment of existing technologies of surveillance and sousveillance to monitor the COVID-19 crisis in India. She has published a commentary in the journal Dialogues in Human Geography, which examines the incorporation of the ‘selfie’ within quarantine apps as an experiment in visual governance of intimate domesticity in the future.
Datta, A. (2020) Self(ie)-governance: Technologies of intimate surveillance in India under COVID19, Dialogues in Human Geography
Ayona’s work on the impacts of COVID19 on migrant populations were published by Royal Geographical Society in a blog titled by ‘Survival Infrastructures under COVID19’; and in a Podcast produced by UCL Institute of Advanced Studies. IAS Talk Pieces: Life in the Time of Coronavirus. #4 Survival Infrastructures
Another blog on the impacts of COVID19 on small cities in India was published here. COVID19 may be an urban crisis, but India’s small cities will be its 'collateral damage'.

Professor James Cheshire (Professor of Geographic Information and Cartography) and Terje Trasberg have analysed measures derived from in-app phone data to chart how activity levels have changed in major UK cities during the period of lockdown. Their research demonstrated that activity levels in London declined more than in other urban metropolitan areas (Financial Times, May 12th 2020).

Professor Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh (Professor of Human Geography) has written an article exploring refugee-led local responses in the time of Covid-19 in North Lebanon and has contributed to a Channel 4 News programme, in which she discusses how Covid-19 is impacting people living in poverty around the world. Elena's research project, Refugee Hosts, has launched a mini-blog series exploring the ways that refugees are experiencing, and responding to, Covid-19.
Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E; (2020) ‘Responding to Precarity: Beddawi Camp in the Era of Covid-19,’ Journal of Palestine Studies , 49 (4) pp. 27-35. 10.1525/jps.2020.49.4.27
Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Yousif M. Qasmiyeh (2020) ‘Refugees’ Pandemic Responses in a Palestinian Camp in Lebanon,’ Current History, 119 (821): 349–355. DOI:

Dr Pushpa Arabindoo (Associate Professor in Geography and Urban Design) has published a commentary, 'Pandemic cities: Between mimicry and trickery', based on reflections from Chennai in the journal Cities and Society. It responds to the current situation in which residential lockdown has become the universal order of the day. In the conclusion she wonders how discourses on global urbanism will develop when the novelty of the current crisis wears off.
Arabindoo, A (2020) ‘Pandemic Cities: between mimicry and trickery

Dr Amy Horton (Lecturer in Economic Geography) is developing collaborative research to investigate the impacts of covid-19 on the finances of care homes and the sustainability of the sector. With other UCL researchers, she is also preparing a possible project on how to sustain local economies and mutual aid that have developed during the period of lockdown. Further research in development would explore different ways of organising and financing care.
Horton, A. (2019) Financialization and non-disposable women: Real estate, debt and labour in UK care homes. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.

Dr Peter Jones (Associate Professor of Environmental Governance) has written on the significance of Covid-19 for governance and the Green New Deal, drawing on his expertise in environmental governance. After Corona Virus: a comprehensive Green New Deal restores local jobs, benefits communities is effective in the fight against environmental breakdown and (with Professor Mark Maslin) What Covid-19 can teach us about governance. He argues that we need state intervention that is responsive to experts and to communities, now and as we fight climate breakdown and biodiversity loss.

Dr Alan Ingram (Associate Professor of Human Geography) has an expertise on geopolitics and biosecurity and written previously on biopolitics and HIV/AIDS. He is currently writing on the disruptive and unpredictable consequences of covid-19 as a geopolitical event (with Andrew Barry).
Ingram, A. (2010) Biosecurity and the international response to HIV/AIDS Area 42:3 293-301

Professor Andrew Barry (Professor of Human Geography) is tracing claims concerning the acceleration of vaccine production (with Dr Ann Kelly, KCL), drawing on his earlier ethnographic research on the development of pharmaceutical drugs. He is also concerned (with Alan Ingram) with the question of how we might understand the disruptive and unpredictable consequences of covid-19 as a geopolitical event.

Professor Julian R. Thompson (Professor of Physical Geography) and colleagues in Italy and China published a review in the journal Water Research on the presence and persistence of coronavirus in the water environment. Professor Thompson, with some of the same co-authors, extended the discussion via a paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment with particular foci on the potential for secondary transmission via wastewater, recommendations for waste water treatment and the challenges facing low-income nations. With former UCL Geography PhD student Dr Hong Yang (now an Associate Professor at the University of Reading), and other colleagues in China and Italy, Professor Thompson co-authored another paper in Science of the Total Environment which demonstrated improvements in river water quality throughout China during the country’s 2020 Covid-19 lockdown as a result of reduced industrial and commercial wastewater discharges. With Dr Yang, Professor Thompson commented in the BMJ on the challenge of fighting Covid-19 within prisons. Professor Thompson and Dr Yang were joined by Professor Roger Flower (Emeritus Professorial Research Fellow) in authoring a short piece in Science discussing the challenges facing the conservation of endangered water birds and their habitats in Southeast Asia during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Carducci, A., Federigi, I., Liu, D., Thompson, J.R., Verani, M. (2020). Making Waves: Coronavirus detection, presence and persistence in the water environment: state of the art and knowledge needs for public health. Water Research 179, 115907.
Liu, D., Thompson, J.R., Carducci, A., Bi, X. (2020). Potential secondary transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via wastewater. Science of the Total Environment 749, 142358.
Liu, D., Yang, H., Thompson, J.R., Li, J., Loiselle, S., Duan, H. (2022). COVID-19 lockdown improved river water quality in China. Science of the Total Environment 802, 149585.
Yang, H., Ma, M., Thompson, J.R., Flower, R.J. (2020). Protect the giant ibis through the pandemic. Science 6506, 929.
Yang, H., Thompson, J.R. (2020). Fighting covid-19 outbreaks in prisons. BMJ 2020;369:m1362.


Professor Jason Dittmer (Professor of Political Geography) is developing a research project investigating the effect of Gibraltar’s temporary Covid-19 border restrictions on preparations for the end of the post-Brexit transition period. The pandemic restrictions are a rehearsal for what may come when the freedom of movement is no longer guaranteed.

Dr Eloise Marais (Associate Professor in Physical Geography) is working with researchers at University of Leicester and University of Leeds to determine the air quality improvements in the UK that resulted from reduced anthropogenic activity during the lockdown. To do this, they are using observations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from the space-based ESA Sentinel-5P/TROPOMI instrument interpreted with the GEOS-Chem chemical transport model.