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Original article

Vol. 151 No. 1718 (2021)

Dynamic modelling to identify mitigation strategies for the COVID-19 pandemic

Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2021;151:w20487


Relevant pandemic-spread scenario simulations can provide guiding principles for containment and mitigation policies. We devised a compartmental model to predict the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies with a main focus on mass testing. The model consists of a set of simple differential equations considering the population size, reported and unreported infections, reported and unreported recoveries, and the number of COVID-19-inflicted deaths. We assumed that COVID-19 survivors are immune (e.g., mutations are not considered) and that the virus is primarily passed on by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals. Moreover, the current version of the model does not account for age-dependent differences in the death rates, but considers higher mortality rates due to temporary shortage of intensive care units. The model parameters have been chosen in a plausible range based on information found in the literature, but it is easily adaptable, i.e., these values can be replaced by updated information any time. We compared infection rates, the total number of people getting infected and the number of deaths in different scenarios. Social distancing or mass testing can contain or drastically reduce the infections and the predicted number of deaths when compared with a situation without mitigation. We found that mass testing alone and subsequent isolation of detected cases can be an effective mitigation strategy, alone and in combination with social distancing. It is of high practical relevance that a relationship between testing frequency and the effective reproduction number of the virus can be provided. However, unless one assumes that the virus can be globally defeated by reducing the number of infected persons to zero, testing must be upheld, albeit at reduced intensity, to prevent subsequent waves of infection. The model suggests that testing strategies can be equally effective as social distancing, though at much lower economic costs. We discuss how our mathematical model may help to devise an optimal mix of mitigation strategies against the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, we quantify the theoretical limit of contact tracing and by how much the effect of testing is enhanced, if applied to sub-populations with increased exposure risk or prevalence.


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