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London calling: Simulation tool predicts second wave of COVID-19

A team of researchers has forecast how localised measures in London, like closing certain shops or quarantining residents in particular buildings, may impact the coronavirus spread.

Health

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, mathematical modelling and computer simulations have been used extensively to decide on the best strategies for mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Efforts have focused on understanding the spread of the coronavirus and the impacts of different interventions. Enter the EU-funded HiDALGO project that has helped a team of researchers develop a simulation to forecast the effects of local lockdown measures across London boroughs. The open-source coronavirus simulation has predicted that a second wave of COVID-19 is likely to hit London in almost all cases but also has shown that the outbreak is likely to be significantly less severe than the first. A news item by HiDALGO project partner Brunel University London states: “The modellers behind it, who have described their simulation as ‘pessimistic,’ found a second wave of coronavirus is likely, regardless of the measures put in place.” Quoted in the same news item, Dr Derek Groen from Brunel University London comments: “Our simulations allow authorities to see the impact of things like closing a local supermarket, or changing the constraints placed on schools or businesses at a very local level.”

Prolonged outbreak

The researchers used anonymised data supplied by a National Health Service Trust to create an 80-day forecast covering a “very wide range of local intervention types” from shutting pubs to restricting individual households in order to help local authorities plan lockdown measures. Full simulations have been developed for several London boroughs, including Brent, Ealing, Hillingdon and Harrow, with more basic forecasts produced for Westminster, Kensington, Fulham and Chelsea. They compared a number of scenarios in each area, such as zero restrictions, an extended lockdown period and a dynamic lockdown using a mix of different measures. Infection rates were visualised on a map, utilising OpenStreetMaps, “letting modellers see where hotspots develop, and how hotspots move as the disease spreads through a population,” as explained in the Brunel University London news item. Dr Groen points to the widely varying results between boroughs and adds that the team is “trying to understand better why that is.” He adds: “The models definitely see a second wave in almost all cases, although it looks much less deep than the first wave, but it could be more prolonged.” The simulation tool is based on findings from current scientific literature, but researchers emphasise that anyone using it could update assumptions such as how infectious each patient is and how many people follow physical distancing rules. “So, for example, it’s not totally clear at the moment how many people are wearing masks. We can put in a number, say, 20%, then run the simulation – but if people want to put in a different number, they can just do more runs and vary the number,” Dr Groen comments. According to the same news item, a local authority in North London already uses the simulations. Dr Imran Mahmood who co-created the simulations states: “We hope that others can take the codes and model their local areas … to get an idea of how COVID-19 is spreading in their local community.” The ongoing HiDALGO (HPC and Big Data Technologies for Global Systems) project that supported the simulator focuses on developing a simulation framework to address global challenges in various fields like sociology, economy, technology and ecology that range from migration flows to air pollution. For more information, please see: HiDALGO project website

Keywords

HiDALGO, COVID-19, coronavirus, London, second wave, lockdown

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