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New models to better predict spread of COVID-19

2 October 2020

Stock image of coronavirus

Current models used to measure the spread of coronavirus may be overestimating the severity of the pandemic.

This is according to a Cardiff University-led group of academics who have produced a new mathematical model which they believe provides a more flexible and accurate representation of the spread of the virus through society.

The more flexible approach means that additional variables can be plugged in to the models with relative ease, such as the geographical spread of people across communities and regions, the susceptibility of different age groups and the medical history of individuals.

The model, therefore, incorporates a degree of randomness which conventional models overlook, instead focusing on the spread of the virus through a fixed cycle of susceptibility, infection and recovery.

In a study, described this week in The Times but yet to be published, the team tested their model for several key variables that characterize the coronavirus pandemic.

They found that one of the most crucial parameters that may significantly reduce the severity

of the pandemic is the degree of separation of vulnerable people and people aged 70 years and over.

“What our model shows is that the isolation of a relatively small percentage of the population may hugely reduce the death toll of the epidemic,” said lead author of the study Professor Anatoly Zhigljavsky, from Cardiff University’s School of Mathematics.

Furthermore, the study showed that due the diverse nature and characteristics of different populations across the country, as well as the delayed spread of the virus through the population, the severity of the pandemic may also be reduced.

“To gauge the potential for widespread contagion, to cope with associated uncertainty and to inform its mitigation, more accurate and robust modelling is centrally important for policy making,” Professor Zhigljavsky continued.

“It is important to remember that models are there to advise and not to replace reality, and that any action should be coordinated and approved by public health experts with experience in dealing with epidemics.”

The team now intend to run many different scenarios with their model to get a better understanding of the current situation and what can be done to effectively control it.

The team, led by Cardiff University, also included academics from the University of Nottingham, University of Oxford, ONS, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Icon Clinical Research and Swansea University.

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