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Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21264509


Against a backdrop of widespread global transmission, a number of countries have successfully brought large outbreaks of COVID-19 under control and maintained near-elimination status. A key element of epidemic response is the tracking of disease transmissibility in near real-time. During major outbreaks, the reproduction rate can be estimated from a time-series of case, hospitalisation or death counts. In low or zero incidence settings, knowing the potential for the virus to spread is a response priority. Absence of case data means that this potential cannot be estimated directly. We present a semi-mechanistic modelling framework that draws on time-series of both behavioural data and case data (when disease activity is present) to estimate the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 from periods of high to low - or zero - case incidence, with a coherent transition in interpretation across the changing epidemiological situations. Of note, during periods of epidemic activity, our analysis recovers the effective reproduction number, while during periods of low - or zero - case incidence, it provides an estimate of transmission risk. This enables tracking and planning of progress towards the control of large outbreaks, maintenance of virus suppression, and monitoring the risk posed by re-introduction of the virus. We demonstrate the value of our methods by reporting on their use throughout 2020 in Australia, where they have become a central component of the national COVID-19 response.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21251171


During the COVID-19 pandemic, evidence has accumulated that movement restrictions enacted to combat virus spread produce disparate consequences along socioeconomic lines. We investigate the hypothesis that people engaged in financially secure employment are better able to adhere to mobility restrictions, due to occupational factors that link the capacity for flexible work arrangements to income security. We use high-resolution spatial data on household internet traffic as a surrogate for adaptation to home-based work, together with the geographical clustering of occupation types, to investigate the relationship between occupational factors and increased internet traffic during work hours under lockdown in two Australian cities. By testing our hypothesis based on the observed trends, and exploring demographic factors associated with divergences from our hypothesis, we are left with a picture of unequal impact dominated by two major influences: the types of occupations in which people are engaged, and the composition of households and families. During lockdown, increased internet traffic was correlated with income security and, when school activity was conducted remotely, to the proportion of families with children. Our findings suggest that response planning and provision of social and economic support for residents within lockdown areas should explicitly account for income security and household structure. Overall, the results we present contribute to the emerging picture of the impacts of COVID-19 on human behaviour, and will help policy makers to understand the balance between public health and social impact in making decisions about mitigation policies.

Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-20080127


As of 18 April 2020, there had been 6,533 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia [1]. Of these, 67 had died from the disease. The daily count of new confirmed cases was declining. This suggests that the collective actions of the Australian public and government authorities in response to COVID-19 were sufficiently early and assiduous to avert a public health crisis -- for now. Analysing factors, such as the intensity and timing public health interventions, that contribute to individual country experiences of COVID-19 will assist in the next stage of response planning globally. Using data from the Australian national COVID-19 database, we describe how the epidemic and public health response unfolded in Australia up to 13 April 2020. We estimate that the effective reproduction number was likely below 1 (the threshold value for control) in each Australian state since mid-March and forecast that hospital ward and intensive care unit occupancy will remain below capacity thresholds over the next two weeks.