Health Life

Physicists develop powerful tool to predict the spread of COVID-19

Credit: Niels Bohr Institute

How extensive should a shutdown be when a new COVID outbreak occurs? Should testing capacity be expanded? And at what pace should tracing occur? Physicists from the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute have developed a new model that can more effectively predict the progression of COVID outbreaks in Denmark, while pointing out how to best manage increasing caseloads. The model enhances the ability to deal with the current pandemic and heightens Denmark’s preparedness for future epidemics.

When the Danish authorities implement COVID-19 shutdowns and precautions, their actions are based on mathematical models that simulate how the virus will progress. Now, Mathias Heltberg, Christian Michelsen, Emil Martiny, Mogens H. Jensen and Troels Petersen of the Niels Bohr Institute have innovated an “agent-based ” that, as a new feature, includes specific characteristics of Denmark’s population, such as the geographic distribution of Danes and their network interactions.

“We have developed a model that pushes the boundaries of how we can model and predict the progression of disease across the country. It is a tool that, among others, the Statens Serum Institute can use to better predict and estimate the progress of this disease across Denmark over time. It will allow us to be better equipped to manage COVID in the future,” says Mathias Heltberg.

Among other things, the model can provide knowledge about how extensive the impact of local shutdowns will be, so as to disturb and affect the fewest number of people possible as a result of precautionary measures. It can also provide answers as to whether testing capacity should be bolstered locally or add clarity about the best approach when infections increase in a specific area—whether, for example, it is better to expand testing capacity and as opposed to instituting shutdowns.

Can predict