7 Oct 2020

Spread of COVID-19 mapped in hospitals to ‘break the chain’ of transmission

UCL Press Release

Spread of COVID-19 mapped in hospitals to ‘break the chain’ of transmission

The trial will evaluate the effectiveness of rapid sequencing and analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes in reducing hospital outbreaks

A first-of-its kind clinical trial, led by scientists at UCL, will evaluate the use of ‘real time’ viral genomic data to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within hospitals. The study’s findings could help the NHS reduce further transmission of the virus by determining if an individual caught the virus from someone else within the same hospital.

The trial, led by Professor Judith Breuer, Director of UCL/UCLH/GOSH Biomedical Research Centres funded Pathogen Genomics Unit (PGU/UCLG), together with the UCL Comprehensive Clinical Trials Unit (CCTU), forms part of the Government’s £20 million COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) – which has established a network of rapid genome sequencing centres across the UK – allowing scientists to map the virus’ spread across the country.

The importance of this research area has been recognised by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). This study is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care.

The COG-UK Hospital Onset COVID-19 Infection (HOCI) trial has been developed with the NIHR UCL/UCLH BRC supported Pathogen Genomics Unit at UCL in collaboration with Imperial College Healthcare Trust, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with The University of Sheffield, and the Glasgow Royal Infirmary with the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research. COG-UK HOCI will involve over 15 hospitals linked to COG-UK sequencing hubs across the UK.

Each site will analyse the COVID-19 sequences in nasal and throat samples from all known COVID-19 patients in the hospital, along with newly infected hospital patients and frontline NHS staff. The trial will evaluate whether results from whole virus genome sequencing of all COVID-19 samples (now available within 24-48 hours) reduces the number of hospital outbreaks compared with standard methodologies. Specifically, the genomic data is likely to enable clinical teams in each hospital to see if newly infected patients have picked up the virus from a known positive COVID-19 patient within the hospital, or from outside the hospital.

There is already evidence emerging from COG-UK that COVID-19 sequences can help teams to control hospital infections better. The COG-UK HOCI trial will quantify by how much sequencing helps, how important it is to return results rapidly, what is the best way to implement COVID-19 sequencing across the NHS, and how much it costs. This information will help to make more precise plans as to how to use COVID-19 sequencing in the future.

COVID-19 viruses that are closely related (transmitted from one patient to another or to a healthcare worker) will have the same sequence, while COVID-19 viruses from two people that have different sequences will rule out the possibility of COVID-19  transmission between patients or healthcare workers.

The COG-UK project is made up of NHS, Public Health Agencies and academic institutions – including UCL and UCLH – and will deliver large scale sequencing of COVID-19, and intelligence sharing with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the government. In COG-UK samples from patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are being sent to a network of sequencing centres all over the UK.

The following NHS Trusts have confirmed they are participating in the HOCI trial:

  • Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • NHS Glasgow and Greater Clyde
  • NHS Lothian
  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  • Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust
  • University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
  • Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust
  • Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

UCL is in discussion with a further six NHS trusts about participating in the trial.


Further Information

Notes to Editors

For more information or to speak to Professor Judith Breuer, please contact Henry Killworth, UCL Media Relations. T: +44 (0) 7881 833274 E:

Selected websites

  • About UCL – London’s Global University

    UCL is a diverse community with the freedom to challenge and think differently.

    Our community of more than 41,500 students from 150 countries and over 12,500 staff pursues academic excellence, breaks boundaries and makes a positive impact on real world problems.

    We are consistently ranked among the top 10 universities in the world and are one of only a handful of institutions rated as having the strongest academic reputation and the broadest research impact.

    We have a progressive and integrated approach to our teaching and research – championing innovation, creativity and cross-disciplinary working. We teach our students how to think, not what to think, and see them as partners, collaborators and contributors.

    For almost 200 years, we are proud to have opened higher education to students from a wide range of backgrounds and to change the way we create and share knowledge.

    We were the first in England to welcome women to university education and that courageous attitude and disruptive spirit is still alive today. We are UCL.

  • COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK)

    The current COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, represents a major threat to health. The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium has been created to deliver large-scale and rapid whole-genome virus sequencing to local NHS centres and the UK government.

    COG-UK is made up of an innovative partnership of NHS organisations, the four Public Health Agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and over twelve academic partners providing sequencing and analysis capacity. A full list of collaborators can be found here:

    COG-UK is supported by £20 million funding from the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Wellcome Sanger Institute, administered by UK Research and Innovation. For more information, visit:

  • The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

    The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation’s largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

    • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
    • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
    • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
    • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
    • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

    The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

    Please visit to learn about other studies that have been given urgent public health status and the single, national prioritisation process that has been established to prevent duplication of effort and to ensure that the resources and capacity of the health and care system to support COVID-19 research are not exceeded.

COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)

The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium works in partnership to harness the power of SARS-CoV-2 genomics in the fight against COVID-19.

Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, COG-UK is made up of an innovative collaboration of NHS organisations, the four public health agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and sixteen academic partners. A full list of collaborators can be found here.

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, represents a major threat to health. The COG-UK consortium was formed in March 2020 to deliver SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis to inform public health policy and to support the establishment of a national pathogen sequencing service, with sequence data now predominantly generated by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Public Health Agencies.

SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis plays a key role in the COVID-19 public health response by enabling the identification, tracking and analysis of variants of concern, and by informing the design of vaccines and therapeutics. COG-UK works collaboratively to deliver world-class research on pathogen sequencing and analysis, maximise the value of genomic data by ensuring fair access and data linkage, and provide a training programme to enable equity in global sequencing.