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Dynamic Causal Modelling of COVID-19

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posted on 14.08.2020 by Karl Friston, Thomas Parr, Peter Zeidman, Adeel Razi, Guillaume Flandin, Jean Daunizeau, Oliver J. Hulme, Alexander Billig, Vladimir Litvak, Rosalyn Moran, Cathy Price, Christian Lambert
See https://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/spm/covid-19/ for more details.

Dynamic Causal Modelling of COVID-19

This technical report describes a dynamic causal model of the spread of coronavirus through a population. The model is based upon ensemble or population dynamics that generate outcomes, like new cases and deaths over time. The purpose of this model is to quantify the uncertainty that attends predictions of relevant outcomes. By assuming suitable conditional dependencies, one can model the effects of interventions (e.g., social distancing) and differences among populations (e.g., herd immunity) to predict what might happen in different circumstances. Technically, this model leverages state-of-the-art variational (Bayesian) model inversion and comparison procedures, originally developed to characterise the responses of neuronal ensembles to perturbations. Here, this modelling is applied to epidemiological populations - to illustrate the kind of inferences that are supported and how the model per se can be optimised given timeseries data. Although the purpose of this paper is to describe a modelling protocol, the results illustrate some interesting perspectives on the current pandemic; for example, the nonlinear effects of herd immunity that speak to a self-organised mitigation process.


Second waves, social distancing, and the spread of COVID-19 across America

We recently described a dynamic causal model of a COVID-19 outbreak within a single region. Here, we combine several of these (epidemic) models to create a (pandemic) model of viral spread among regions. Our focus is on a second wave of new cases that may result from loss of immunity - and the exchange of people between regions - and how mortality rates can be ameliorated under different strategic responses. In particular, we consider hard or soft social distancing strategies predicated on national (Federal) or regional (State) estimates of the prevalence of infection in the population. The modelling is demonstrated using timeseries of new cases and deaths from the United States to estimate the parameters of a factorial (compartmental) epidemiological model of each State and, crucially, coupling between States. Using Bayesian model reduction, we identify the effective connectivity between States that best explains the initial phases of the outbreak in the United States. Using the ensuing posterior parameter estimates, we then evaluate the likely outcomes of different policies in terms of mortality, working days lost due to lockdown and demands upon critical care. The provisional results of this modelling suggest that social distancing and loss of immunity are the two key factors that underwrite a return to endemic equilibrium.


Tracking and tracing in the UK: a dynamic causal modelling study

By equipping a previously reported dynamic causal model of COVID-19 with an isolation state, we modelled the effects of self-isolation consequent on tracking and tracing. Specifically, we included a quarantine or isolation state occupied by people who believe they might be infected but are asymptomatic, and only leave if they test negative. We recovered maximum posteriori estimates of the model parameters using time series of new cases, daily deaths, and tests for the UK. These parameters were used to simulate the trajectory of the outbreak in the UK over an 18-month period. Several clear-cut conclusions emerged from these simulations. For example, under plausible (graded) relaxations of social distancing, a rebound of infections within weeks is unlikely. The emergence of a later second wave depends almost exclusively on the rate at which we lose immunity, inherited from the first wave. There exists no testing strategy that can attenuate mortality rates, other than by deferring or delaying a second wave. A sufficiently powerful tracking and tracing policy - implemented at the time of writing (10th May 2020) - will defer any second wave beyond a time horizon of 18 months. Crucially, this deferment is within current testing capabilities (requiring an efficacy of tracing and tracking of about 20% of asymptomatic infected cases, with less than 50,000 tests per day). These conclusions are based upon a dynamic causal model for which we provide some construct and face validation, using a comparative analysis of the United Kingdom and Germany, supplemented with recent serological studies.


Effective immunity and second waves: a dynamic causal modelling study

This technical report addresses a pressing issue in the trajectory of the coronavirus outbreak; namely, the rate at which effective immunity is lost following the first wave of the pandemic. This is a crucial epidemiological parameter that speaks to both the consequences of relaxing lockdown and the propensity for a second wave of infections. Using a dynamic causal model of reported cases and deaths from multiple countries, we evaluated the evidence models of progressively longer periods of immunity. The results speak to an effective population immunity of about three months that, under the model, defers any second wave for approximately six months in most countries. This may have implications for the window of opportunity for tracking and tracing, as well as for developing vaccination programmes, and other therapeutic intervention



Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging

Wellcome Trust

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