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"The workshop at the Isaac Newton Institute provided a unique opportunity to ask experts for their views about the most important questions for planning exit strategies. This is of clear importance for current public health policy, and so we chose to write an evidence synthesis paper to summarise our findings."

We are now at the stage of the COVID-19 pandemic where many governments are implementing lockdown exit strategies, which allow restrictions to be relaxed, while also trying to control the number of infections. Epidemic modellers, who provide evidence to their respective governments, are working hard to accurately model the effects that different exit strategies will have. Proceedings B has recently published an evidence synthesis paper where many world-leading epidemic modellers have identified a roadmap to facilitate the development of reliable models to guide exit strategies. Lead author Robin Thompson from University of Oxford tells us more about the authors and the findings of the paper.

Packages of non-pharmaceutical interventions have been introduced around the world to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. In many countries, attention is now turning to how these measures can be relaxed while continuing to restrict transmission. Predicting the effects of different possible exit strategies is an important challenge and many uncertainties remain. In May 2020, mathematical modellers and other scientists who are providing evidence to governments worldwide met online (organised by the Isaac Newton Institute in Cambridge) to discuss current challenges that, if addressed, will allow the impacts of different exit strategies to be predicted more accurately. In this paper, these challenges are summarised, and a roadmap is provided for modellers and other scientists towards more accurate predictions of the effects of different exit strategies.

Why did you choose to write an evidence synthesis paper?

The evidence base for COVID-19 is changing rapidly. The workshop at the Isaac Newton Institute provided a unique opportunity to ask experts (including modellers, social scientists, immunologists and others) for their views about the most important outstanding questions for planning exit strategies. This is of clear importance for current public health policy, and so we chose to write an evidence synthesis paper to summarise our findings.

What are those key findings?

We found three key areas that require attention. First, estimates of epidemiological parameters must be improved. These include real-time estimates of virus transmission, as well as estimates of the levels of acquired immunity in different populations. Second, it is critical to understand heterogeneities within and between different populations. One example is the relative contributions to transmission of individuals of different ages, which have implications for the reopening of schools and workplaces. Third, there must be a concerted effort to understand data requirements for resolving current knowledge gaps. Many global data challenges exist, but additional attention must be directed towards data collection and methods for planning exit strategies in low-to-middle-income countries. 

About the author

I am a Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, one of the colleges at the University of Oxford, UK. My research involves mathematical modelling of infectious disease outbreaks. In the initial stages of any outbreak, this includes using models to predict the risk that initial cases will lead on to a major epidemic. When a major epidemic is ongoing, I am interested in using models to explore the effects of different possible public health measures. And when case numbers are declining, I explore how control interventions can be removed while minimising the risk of a surge in cases. Given appropriate data, mathematical models can be used to help address all of these challenges at different stages of outbreaks.

Robin Thompson

Although I am the contact author for this paper, answering the questions that we outline in our evidence synthesis article requires an international collaborative response from diverse scientific communities. The authors of our manuscript include researchers from different countries with different areas of expertise, reflecting these global and inter-disciplinary challenges.

What was your experience like publishing in Proceedings B?

Our experience of publishing with Proceedings B has been very positive. We received three extremely useful reviews – two from external reviewers and one from an editor – that allowed us to improve our evidence synthesis article substantially. These rigorous reviews were obtained quickly and our manuscript has been published in a timescale that will allow the impact of our work to be maximised. We could not recommend publishing with Proceedings B any more highly.

Proceedings B is looking to publish more evidence synthesis articles across all areas of biology. More information about evidence synthesis, the journal and the submission process can be found on our website

Image credits

Coronavirus - Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Robin Thompson – Rebecca Spriggs


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