COVID-19 Manual Introduction

Coronavirus has affected every corner of the globe and the people of all nations.

Never has the mission of the IMechE - "improving the world through engineering" - been so relevant.

Members of the Institution have been involved in efforts to defeat the virus ever since the outbreak, from helping to set up hospitals in the UK and Hong Kong to building ventilators in India to contributing to SAGE in the UK.

IMechE's COVID-19 Task Force

Our President Terry Spall formalised our contribution by setting up this Task Force, shortly after he took up office in May 2020. The Task Force is run under the auspices of the Technical Strategy Board with representatives from the Trustee Board and Divisions and Groups, Council and International Strategy Board.

The Task Force meets regularly every few weeks. Formal submissions, when requested, have been made to the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Department of Transport, the Engineering Policy Unit; a webinar was recently hosted by the Engineering Council for our members.

The Task Force members agreed recently that a ‘manual’ of mechanical engineering practice and approaches for dealing with COVID-19 would be timely to produce. The following sections describe our efforts. But beforehand a brief background of what Coronavirus is might put the effects of the disease into perspective.


Coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The virus itself takes the form of spherical particles, usually about 120nm in diameter  (human hair range from 40000-80000nm in diameter). The particles are covered in an envelope to which adhere protein molecules; they appear as their now well-known characteristics of club-like surface spikes, each of which is about 20nm long. The appearance resembles that of a solar corona, hence the term Coronavirus. At the head of each spike is a particular type of protein, the “S1”, which is the main carrier of the infection. "S1" can bind itself with other living cells that are able to accept it. Within the human body it binds with the ACE receptors, proteins that are found in many cells and tissues including in the nose, mouth and lungs.


Infection begins when the spike protein becomes attached to another host cell that is able to receive it. It then activates the receptor cell, and the virus  enters the host cell. A feature of the mechanisms now occurring is the replication of the virus on other cells, spreading the disease. It can also be copied, and recombined with other cells, and jumping from one host to another, infect them all. Infected carriers are able to spread the virus into surrounding areas and nearby objects.

The virus can infect the tissue in the respiratory tracts of humans; coughing, sneezing, and breathing difficulties can be the outcome. The symptoms can be mild like the common cold, or more serious, as sore throats, swollen glands, high fevers, and temperatures, and acute respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.

Pneumonia was the perceived cause when the outbreak first arose in Wuhan in December 2019. It was only subsequently realised to be a new potentially dangerous form of Coronavirus, which, incidentally, had been around and known in other forms for some years.

The virus can reside on surfaces, be spread through physical contact, and travel through the air in droplets and aerosols. That is why we must protect ourselves and others by washing our hands to remove vestiges of the infection, wearing face coverings, and keeping a safe distance from others.


At present there is a worldwide effort to develop vaccines to treat the disease and vaccination has started. However the roll out will take time.

Until that time members of the IMechE will continue in their efforts to defeat the virus, making a major contribution to finding mechanical engineering approaches and solutions to the problem.

In summary this manual describes some of their work.

COVID-19 Task Force


Joe McGeough

Past President, IMechE
Professorial Fellow, University of Edinburgh


COVID-19 Task Force

  • Get involved with the work of the Committee
  • Share engineering information in the fight against Coronavirus/COVID-19