Wokingham borough’s World Health Organisation professor who carried out groundbreaking early work on Covid-19, saving lives, has been honoured by the Queen.
Professor Ben Cowling is to be made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. The award is revealed in the Queen’s birthday honours list today (Saturday, June 12.)
The honour is for “services to public health and to research on Covid-19.”
Professor Cowling, who went to Sonning Primary School, gives exclusive interviews to Wokingham.Today.
This means our readers have regular updates on his globally important research and views on Covid-19 – this included his prediction that the UK would be facing a pandemic weeks before the country went into its first lockdown.
On Saturday, the day after his 42nd birthday, he said: “I feel really honoured to receive the award”.
He thought a royal family member would present it at Buckingham Palace or possibly Windsor Castle. He could choose to receive it in Hong Kong, where he lives, from the British Ambassador.
Professor Cowling’s mother Elaine, a member of Twyford Singers, said she and her husband Tony, a Twyford Bridge Club member, said they were “absolutely delighted” about the well-deserved honour.
Asked how his work had affected the health of the world’s people, Professor Cowling said: “The work I’ve been doing in Hong Kong on Covid has been a team effort so I would be reluctant to take sole credit.
“But I think the work we have done in recent years prior to the pandemic particularly on face masks has made an impact, as well as the work done in the early months of 2020.”
In January last year Professor Cowling went with colleagues to China to work on a study which gave the first official estimates of how easily Covid-19 was passed on.
This was urgently needed information when Covid-19 was taking off to eventually become a pandemic. The scientists were looking at details about the first 425 people to have Covid-19 confirmed in Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and January 2020.
Soon after the study’s publication on January 29, 2020, Professor Cowling, speaking to Wokingham.Today, made, what seemed then, astounding predictions.
When there were just two Covid-19 cases in the UK, he predicted the possible start of a coronavirus epidemic in the UK by early March. He also warned the new virus was “a real risk to global health.” He was proved right on both.
Later he said the Wuhan study was one of the most important in his career.
Professor Cowling, director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre in Hong Kong, went to Hong Kong in 2004 after the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak, to work on emerging infections and possibly the new SARS whenever it arose. Sixteen years later he was still there when Covid-19 emerged.
On Saturday he said: “My wife and two children are here with me in Hong Kong. I’m enjoying life out here and doing a lot of exciting research. I will be spending more time in the UK in the coming years as my younger son will be going to school in Reading.”