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Model of Predator-Prey Relationship Helps Predict Spread of COVID-19

Researchers from the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences have proposed a mathematical model that describes the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking into account the restrictions applied in different countries. The model will help governments make reasonable and timely decisions on introducing or lifting restrictions. The paper was published in Eurasian Economic Review.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic showed the world that our understanding of the spread of infectious diseases and the effectiveness of implemented policies is limited. The first countries to experience disease outbreaks did not have any similar examples they could draw on to fight the pandemic. Precise and reliable models that describe the spread of infection and the consequences of various restrictions would help governments make better decisions.

The basic model usually used to describe the development of epidemics includes the shares of people who are healthy, infected and recovered. It has modifications that can be applied to diseases that do not provide permanent immunity, as well as long pandemics (over a year), for which birth and mortality rates are important. But all of these are poorly suited to forecasting the coronavirus pandemic—they do not account for restrictions, which can strongly impact the results of the calculations. The authors of the paper have proposed a model capable of predicting the length and severity of infection waves in countries with different COVID-19 prevention policies.

The authors based their model on the Lotka-Volterra model, which was developed in 1925–1926 to describe the interaction of two biological roles: predator and prey. The researchers adapted it to predict the distribution of a disease: the variable responsible for the number of prey was used to describe the share of the population available for infection, while the infected function as predators. The speed at which the share of healthy people decreases depends on the effectiveness of containment measures, while the growth of the share of infected depends on the scale of the pandemic, the share of those who have not been infected, the strictness of restrictive measures, and the probability of infection during the pandemic’s decline.

The model was validated using data on the 2014–2015 Ebola virus epidemic. It successfully calculated the total number of infected and the peak of infection (the day with the highest number of new cases). The model was then applied to the COVID pandemic. To do so, the researchers compiled a database on the number of registered cases on each day of the first half of 2020 for 20 member countries of the World Health Organization, as well as on containment policies implemented by the governments of these countries. Then, they compared the results of the calculation to real-life data and determined the reasons for any deviations.

The data collected also allowed them to test several hypotheses. For example, for most observed countries, the severity of the second wave of the pandemic directly depended on the speed at which restrictions were lifted. This correlation turned out to be particularly strong in countries where the daily number of new cases was approaching zero and the authorities started to lift restrictions quickly (Serbia, Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania). One notable example is China, where the level of restrictive measures had been high before the pandemic eased, which led to a considerable decrease in its lethality. On the other end of the spectrum is the USA, which demonstrated a variety of attitudes towards self-isolation policies, resulting in severe consequences during the early stages of the spread of the disease.

Alexander Karminsky, co-author of the study and Research Professor at the HSE Faculty of Economic Sciences

‘Our estimates demonstrated that active policies to prevent the spread of COVID do correlate with a decrease in the number of infections. During the study, we also saw that specific social aspects and factors, particularly social habits, seriously impact the effectiveness of containment measures.’

The model helps understand whether restrictions can be lifted at a given moment or whether it is too early to do so. The authors emphasize that the model was developed during the pandemic, when many things (such as the severity of the third and subsequent waves) remained unknown. New data may impact the results and conclusions, but the model serves as a strong foundation for future research.

HSE Biologists Explain Mechanism behind Coronavirus Evolution

A team of researchers, including scientists of the HSE Faculty of Biology and Biotechnology, have analysed the evolutionary path of the coronavirus from the Wuhan variant to Omicron. Their findings indicate that many genomic mutations in SARS-CoV-2 are shaped by processes occurring in the intestines and lungs, where the virus acquires the ability to evade the inhibitory effects of microRNA molecules. The study findings have been published in the Journal of Medical Virology.

Russian Researchers Explain Origins of Dangerous Coronavirus Variants

HSE researchers, in collaboration with their colleagues from Skoltech and the Central Research Institute for Epidemiology, have uncovered the mechanisms behind the emergence of new and dangerous coronavirus variants, such as Alpha, Delta, Omicron, and others. They have discovered that the likelihood of a substitution occurring at a specific site of the SARS-CoV-2 genome is dependent on concordant substitutions occurring at other sites. This explains why new and more contagious variants of the virus can emerge unexpectedly and differ significantly from those that were previously circulating. The study’s findings have been published in eLife.

‘As We Fight Climate Change and Poverty, the Focus on Personal, rather than Social Goals, may Prove Harmful over Time’

The 11th International LCSR Workshop of the HSE Ronald F. Inglehart Laboratory for Comparative Social Research, ‘Recent Advances in Comparative Study of Values’, took place as part of the XXIII Yasin (April) International Academic Conference. HSE News Service talked about the study of values and current changes in academic life with Ronald Fischer, who presented an honorary paper ‘Why We Should Aim for Systematic Non-Invariance in Cross-Cultural Research’ at the workshop.

Stress Disorders More Prevalent among Doctors due to the Pandemic

Psychologists from HSE University have joined their peers from Ekaterinburg to look into the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Russian doctors. They found that medical staff are suffering from stress, anxiety, and depression more often than before. The results of the study were published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

COVID-19 Pandemic Brought Humanity Closer to the Next Stage of Technological Revolution

The outbreak of the pandemic posed some serious challenges to the world that required the concentration of many people’s efforts and the use of the latest technologies. This has led to powerful technological breakthroughs, particularly in medicine. HSE University researchers Leonid Grinin, Anton Grinin, and Andrey Korotayev published a paper in which they assessed the impact of COVID-19 on social development. The authors concluded that the pandemic will considerably accelerate humanity’s transition to a new stage of development, but can also cause significant social strain.

HSE Biologists Prepare Strategy for Universal COVID Test

Russian researchers have developed a strategy to create a cheap and rapid COVID-19 test based on isothermal amplification. According to their publication in Applied Biochemistry and Microbiology, use of this strategy will make it possible to create universal test systems for any of the COVID-19 variants.

Experts on the Consequences of COVID-19: The Pandemic Gives Impetus to Science and Technology

TheHuman Capital Multidisciplinary Research Centre and HSE University, in cooperation with the World Bank, held the conference ‘New Challenges of Demographic, Epidemiological and Medical-Technological Development: Search for New Models of Healthcare Development.’ The participants discussed whether the healthcare system was prepared to face the pandemic, how the latter affected lifespans and excess mortality rates, whether we can trust statistics, and what we should do to see ‘the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.’

School in the Pandemic: How Online Learning Has Worsened Inequality

At the start of the pandemic, countries over the world struggled to provide a high-quality combination of online and in-person education. What’s more, low-income families have had fewer opportunities to arrange education for their children. These issues were the topic of the open seminar on ‘International Experience: Lessons for Schools After the Stress of the Pandemic’ hosted by the HSE University Institute of Education.

People’s Values Affect Their Attitudes to COVID-19 Restrictions

HSE social and political analysts have established which value models and circumstances promote support for restrictive government policies aimed at combatting the coronavirus pandemic. The research is published in Plos One.

Researchers Discuss How the Pandemic Is Changing Civic Activism

In October, HSE University held the 10th Conference of Civil Society Researchers, organized by the Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Nonprofit Sector. The main topic of this anniversary forum was ‘The impact of the crisis on the development of the nonprofit sector and citizen self-organization in Russia: New realities and prospects’. The conference was co-organized by the Association "European University for Volunteering" (EUV) and the United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV), a long-time partner of the centre.