Simulate impact of physical distancing in countries around world

Markers for shop customers during COVID-19

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) has developed a new tool that can simulate the impact of physical distancing interventions on the spread of COVID-19 in most countries around the world.

The new app is designed to be accessible for the public and science educators to boost understanding of how infectious diseases modelling works, rather than be a definitive guide for policymakers.

Users can select one of 148 countries around the world and look at projections for various scenarios such as the absence of any control measures or social distancing.

They can make adjustments to the coronavirus’s introduction date, reproduction number and relative risk of death/hospitalization, to then compare the effect of different interventions for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

It runs the same simulation code that LSHTM’s Centre for the Mathematical Modelling for Infectious Diseases (CMMID) uses to provide data for countries around the world, but is not the exact tool the Centre used. These require more sensitivity to different contexts than a one size fits all app.

Nick Davies from CMMID who helped design the app said: “Infectious disease modelling is something that many people may not have heard much of before COVID. Now, it’s at the heart of policymaking and at the top of the news agenda. It’s a complex tool that’s being used to help decide strategies that are having a huge impact on our daily lives. It’s therefore important for scientists to help further public understanding of modelling.

“Our aim was to develop an app that gives people a chance to step into our shoes and run their own simulations, in a way that’s reasonably close to what we have been using.”

The app development team say that the tool can help policymakers think about how interventions work for COVID-19, and get a very rough sense of potential COVID-19 burden, but shouldn’t be used to plan response policy.

Nick Davies: “With other teams around the world, we are working around the clock to help inform policy in the UK and other countries, particularly in Africa. While this new app uses the same code and is a strong guide, the models we use for policy are more complex. For example, many of them explicitly account for high-risk groups and how this may vary among different countries.”

The app will continue to be developed, including the addition of more interventions and countries.

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