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A data-driven metapopulation model for the Belgian COVID-19 epidemic: assessing the impact of lockdown and exit strategies

Tijdschriftbijdrage - Tijdschriftartikel

BACKGROUND: In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, several countries adopted measures of social distancing to a different degree. For many countries, after successfully curbing the initial wave, lockdown measures were gradually lifted. In Belgium, such relief started on May 4th with phase 1, followed by several subsequent phases over the next few weeks. METHODS: We analysed the expected impact of relaxing stringent lockdown measures taken according to the phased Belgian exit strategy. We developed a stochastic, data-informed, meta-population model that accounts for mixing and mobility of the age-structured population of Belgium. The model is calibrated to daily hospitalization data and is able to reproduce the outbreak at the national level. We consider different scenarios for relieving the lockdown, quantified in terms of relative reductions in pre-pandemic social mixing and mobility. We validate our assumptions by making comparisons with social contact data collected during and after the lockdown. RESULTS: Our model is able to successfully describe the initial wave of COVID-19 in Belgium and identifies interactions during leisure/other activities as pivotal in the exit strategy. Indeed, we find a smaller impact of school re-openings as compared to restarting leisure activities and re-openings of work places. We also assess the impact of case isolation of new (suspected) infections, and find that it allows re-establishing relatively more social interactions while still ensuring epidemic control. Scenarios predicting a second wave of hospitalizations were not observed, suggesting that the per-contact probability of infection has changed with respect to the pre-lockdown period. CONCLUSIONS: Contacts during leisure activities are found to be most influential, followed by professional contacts and school contacts, respectively, for an impending second wave of COVID-19. Regular re-assessment of social contacts in the population is therefore crucial to adjust to evolving behavioral changes that can affect epidemic diffusion.
Tijdschrift: BMC Infectious Diseases
ISSN: 1471-2334
Issue: 1
Volume: 21
Jaar van publicatie:2021