Covid-19 expert Karl Friston: 'Germany may have more immunological “dark matter”'

Lately, he’s been applying his modelling to Covid-19, and using what he learns to advise Independent Sage, the committee set up as an alternative to the UK government’s official pandemic advice body, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).A common type of epidemiological model used today is the SEIR model, which considers that people must be in one of four states – susceptible (S), exposed (E), infected (I) or recovered (R). Imagine you want to simulate an outbreak in Scotland. Using conventional approaches, this would take you a day or longer with today’s computing resources. Yes. With conventional SEIR models, interventions and surveillance are something you add to the model – tweaks or perturbations – so that you can see their effect on morbidity and mortality. That means it is possible to predict not only numbers of cases and deaths in the future, but also societal and institutional responses – and to attach precise dates to those predictions.I think of Independent Sage as the ultimate exercise in public engagement; what it would look like if you and I and everyone else were able to sit in on a real Sage meeting. The models support the idea that what happens in the next few weeks is not going to have a great impact in terms of triggering a rebound – because the population is protected to some extent by immunity acquired during the first wave. If these are implemented coherently, we could potentially defer that wave beyond a time horizon where treatments or a vaccine become available, in a way that we weren’t able to before the first one.Knowing it exists is useful for our preparations for any second wave, because it suggests that targeted testing of those at high risk of exposure to Covid-19 might be a better approach than non-selective testing of the whole population.

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