• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Lockdown by Algorithm: A Proposed Model Calculates Optimal Restriction Levels

Lockdown by Algorithm: A Proposed Model Calculates Optimal Restriction Levels

© iStock

During the pandemic, countries have endeavoured to protect their citizens without hurting their economies with excessive restrictions. At the seminar ‘Living with Covid-19: Optimal Lockdown Policies’, Hubert Kempf, academic supervisor of HSE University’s International Laboratory for Macroeconomic Analysis, presented a mathematical model that can be used to calculate the optimal level of restrictions.  

In 2020, many governments had to decide how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, and the measures adopted varied greatly, depending on the severity of the epidemic in a particular country, its geographical location, the strength of its links to neighbouring countries, the political regime, and the views of the leadership. The severity of these measures ranged from complete lockdown, the halting of certain businesses, the closure of shops and cafes, and travel bans, to monitoring the situation without any restrictions.

Hubert Kempf
Photo courtesy of Hubert Kempf

Proponents of both extremes argue in favour of their preferred solution. Those who think it is appropriate to introduce a lockdown justify it on the basis of the need to contain the spread of the virus and to prevent the number of sick people from overwhelming hospital capacity. Those who oppose the restrictions point to the damage to the economy: entire industries (e.g., tourism and air travel) and many small- and medium-sized enterprises, which find it more difficult to survive a work stoppage than large ones, will suffer from a lockdown. In the first case, more people will be able to receive quality medical care and the death rate will be lower; in the second case, high unemployment will be avoided, and the severity of the economic crisis will be reduced.

Most countries have chosen policies that fall between these extremes. ‘Life during the coronavirus pandemic is a balancing act between the health benefits of lockdown and social distancing, and the economic and political costs of restrictions,’ said Hubert Kempf. But how can the severity of restrictions be calculated so that both public health and the economy suffer as little damage as possible? What are the parameters that determine economic damage and mortality rates?

It is not easy to generate a robust mathematical model, as the key factor (spread of infection) is not economic in nature and operates according to different laws. In addition, this pandemic represents the first time the global community has reacted in this way (never before have governments imposed such sweeping restrictions to save lives) and there is nothing to compare its evolution with. Several papers have been published on the course of Covid and the results of restrictive measures in different countries, but they do not offer mechanisms to guide decision-making processes.

Hubert Kempf and his co-author, Stéphane Rossignol of the University of Paris VIII, based their algorithm on the simple SIR model proposed by William Kermack and Anderson McKendrick in 1927. It divides the population into three groups: those who are susceptible, those who are infected, and those who have recovered. The model describes infection rates in a simplified way (a visualisation of the SIR model was made in the Washington Post).

Using existing work, the scientists created a mathematical model that takes into account the prevalence rate, R0 (the average number of people infected by one person who is sick), mortality (the proportion of those who become infected who die from the disease) and patient recovery. In addition, health system capacity (the number of people who can be treated at the same time) and the date at which a vaccine becomes available can be entered. The model calculates the duration of the pandemic, the damage to the economy, and the likely number of deaths associated with various levels of restrictions.

A key variable in the calculations is what the authors define as the ‘economic value of life'

This variable is assigned different values by different governments and determines the weighting with which the total number of deaths caused by the virus is included in the final equation. The equation itself allows for the calculation of an acceptable prevalence rate, and subsequently how stringent the required measures need to be to keep it at that level. In general, the higher a government values human life, the stricter the measures it takes should be, but for some ‘value of life’ ranges, the optimal level of restriction remains constant.

‘This work is theoretical; we are not trying to decide which policy would be right for Russia, for example,’ Professor Kempf said. ‘We want to understand how theoretically to justify mitigation policies.’

The International Laboratory for Macroeconomic Analysis was established in 2006. Its main areas of research are fiscal and monetary policy, the political economy of economic growth, and econometric methods of macroeconomic analysis and forecasting. Current laboratory projects include ‘Sustainable Public Finance’, ‘Information and Macroeconomic Policy’, ‘Problems in Empirical Macroeconomics and Macroeconomic Forecasting’ and ‘Political Economy of Growth and Development’. Twice a month the laboratory hosts an open research seminar. It is chaired by the Dean of the Faculty of Economic Sciences Professor Sergey Pekarski, and supervised by Professor Hubert Kempf (who is also Professor of Economics at the Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay).

See also:

'We Wanted to Create an Opportunity for Intercampus Teams to Engage in Promising Studies'

HSE University has announced the winners of the Project Competition in Basic Science Research for Intercampus Departments. The competition, which the university is organising for the first time, will provide funding to 10 research teams working on five topics. Four of the winning projects will be implemented by new research departments formed as a result of the competition.

Research Reveals RNA's Role in Cancer Progression

An international group of scientists and medical specialists, including HSE researchers, examined the role played by microRNA (miRNA) and long non-coding RNAs on the progression of ovarian cancer. Having analysed more than a hundred tumour samples, they found that miRNA can prevent cell mutation while long non-coding RNAs have the opposite effect of enabling such mutations. These findings can help design new drugs which act by regulating miRNA concentrations. The study was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

‘We Managed to Bring Together Specialists in AI, Pure Mathematics, and Neurobiology’

In early September, the HSE University Faculty of Computer Science hosted the international conference Computer Methods of Cognitome Analysis. The event was organised by the International Laboratory of Algebraic Topology and Its Applications at the faculty.

Russian Researchers Propose New Approach to Studying Facial Emotion Recognition

Researchers of the HSE University and the Southern Federal University (SFedU) have tested a new method for studying the perception of facial emotional expressions. They suggest that asking subjects to recognise emotional expressions from dynamic video clips rather than static photographs can improve the accuracy of findings, eg in psychiatric and neurological studies. The paper is published in Applied Sciences.

Academics Started Working Even More During the Pandemic

Academics’ work week became even longer during the pandemic. This is true of researchers from different countries, independently of their gender and specialisation, an international research team with HSE University participation found. Their working time during the pandemic was 51 hours compared to the usual 40. The increased number of working hours per week seems to have become part of the new academic norm. The results of the study were published in the Plos One journal.

HSE Researchers Develop New Method for Analysing Genetic Admixture of Populations

Researchers of the HSE International Laboratory of Statistical and Computational Genomics together with their international colleagues have proposed a new statistical method for analysing population admixture that makes it possible to determine the time and number of migration waves more accurately. The history of Colombians and Mexicans (descendants of Native Americans, Spaniards and Africans) features two episodes of admixture that occurred about 350 and 200 years ago for Mexicans and 400 and 100 years ago for Colombians. The results were published in the Plos Genetics journal.

Pivot to the East: A Comprehensive Study of the Cultural and Civilisational Centres of the Non-Western World is the Top Priority

China and the Chinese world, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Arab countries, Iran, Turkey, Central Asia and Africa are gaining new significance in Russia’s foreign policy. However, we do not know enough about the Eastern countries. It is necessary to change the priorities in education, starting from grammar school. Prospects for the development of domestic Oriental studies in the context of the new stage in the development of the system of international relations were discussed at a round table at HSE University.

‘I Admire HSE Students’ Eagerness to Learn, to Discuss, to Broaden Their Perspectives’

Robert Romanowski was a ‘Digital Professor’ at HSE University in November 2021. In his interview for the HSE News Service, he talked about the specifics of online teaching, his course on Strategic Branding, and the skills that are essential for marketing professionals today.

Russia and Africa: Time to Expand Cooperation

There is major potential for economic and humanitarian cooperation between Russia and African countries. Particularly, Russian organisations and universities can help transfer competencies and knowledge in the fields of agriculture, energy, industrial production, environmental management, climate change, and public administration. Experts and representatives of African embassies in Russia discussed these issues at the round table ‘Russia-Africa Sharing Knowledge’ hosted by HSE University.

The Brain in Space: Investigating the Effects of Long Spaceflights on Space Travellers

As part of an international project conducted with the participation of Roscosmos and the European Space Agency, a team of researchers used differential tractography to analyse dMRI scans ofcosmonauts’ brains and found significant changes in brain connectivity, with some of the changes persisting after seven months back on Earth. The paper is published in Frontiers in Neural Circuits.