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1.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21266899

ABSTRACT

Recent months have demonstrated that emerging variants may set back the global COVID-19 response. The ability to rapidly assess the threat of new variants in real-time is critical for timely optimisation of control strategies. We extend the EpiEstim R package, designed to estimate the time-varying reproduction number (Rt), to estimate in real-time the effective transmission advantage of a new variant compared to a reference variant. Our method can combine information across multiple locations and over time and was validated using an extensive simulation study, designed to mimic a variety of real-time epidemic contexts. We estimate that the SARS-CoV-2 Alpha variant is 1.46 (95% Credible Interval 1.44-1.47) and 1.29, (95% CrI 1.29-1.30) times more transmissible than the wild type, using data from England and France respectively. We further estimate that Beta and Gamma combined are 1.25 (95% CrI 1.24-1.27) times more transmissible than the wildtype (France data). All results are in line with previous estimates from literature, but could have been obtained earlier and more easily with our off-the-shelf open-source tool. Our tool can be used as an important first step towards quantifying the threat of new variants in real-time. Given the popularity of EpiEstim, this extension will likely be used widely to monitor the co-circulation and/or emergence of multiple variants of infectious pathogens. Significance StatementEarly assessment of the transmissibility of new variants of an infectious pathogen is critical for anticipating their impact and designing appropriate interventions. However, this often requires complex and bespoke analyses relying on multiple data streams, including genomic data. Here we present a novel method and software to rapidly quantify the transmission advantage of new variants. Our method is fast and requires only routinely collected disease surveillance data, making it easy to use in real-time. The ongoing high level of SARS-CoV-2 circulation in a number of countries makes the emergence of new variants highly likely. Our work offers a powerful tool to help public health bodies monitor such emerging variants and rapidly detect those with increased transmissibility.

2.
Preprint in English | medRxiv | ID: ppmedrxiv-21260746

ABSTRACT

BackgroundAs of July 2021, more than 180,000,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported across the world, with more than 4 million deaths. Mathematical modelling and forecasting efforts have been widely used to inform policy-making and to create situational awareness. Methods and FindingsFrom 8th March to 29th November 2020, we produced weekly estimates of SARS-CoV-2 transmissibility and forecasts of deaths due to COVID-19 for countries with evidence of sustained transmission. The estimates and forecasts were based on an ensemble model comprising of three models that were calibrated using only the reported number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in each country. We also developed a novel heuristic to combine weekly estimates of transmissibility and potential changes in population immunity due to infection to produce forecasts over a 4-week horizon. We evaluated the robustness of the forecasts using relative error, coverage probability, and comparisons with null models. ConclusionsDuring the 39-week period covered by this study, we produced short- and medium-term forecasts for 81 countries. Both the short- and medium-term forecasts captured well the epidemic trajectory across different waves of COVID-19 infections with small relative errors over the forecast horizon. The model was well calibrated with 56.3% and 45.6% of the observations lying in the 50% Credible Interval in 1-week and 4-week ahead forecasts respectively. We could accurately characterise the overall phase of the epidemic up to 4-weeks ahead in 84.9% of country-days. The medium-term forecasts can be used in conjunction with the short-term forecasts of COVID-19 mortality as a useful planning tool as countries continue to relax stringent public health measures that were implemented to contain the pandemic.

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