Development and Application of an Agent-Based COVID-19 Simulation Model

Niki Popper
Technical University Vienna

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When it was clear that COVID-19 will become a global issue, the obvious questions was: What impact will the disease have on health care systems and what would the best countermeasures be to get a grip on it? While decision makers are still hesitant to accept results from (mathematical) computer models, these can be a very powerful tool for decision support for policy making in a wide range of areas [1].
In the course of the long-lasting collaboration between TU Wien and dwh an agent-based General Population Concept (GEPOC [2]) model has been developed as the foundation for decision support tools. This GEPOC model has already been tested and proven in the health sector (e.g. assessment of re-hospitalization rates of psychiatric patients [3] and evaluation of MMR and Polio vaccination rates [4]) over the past years. The obvious idea was to use build upon this framework in order to simulate the COVID-19 epidemic.
The epidemic simulation extension to the model is based on an influenza simulation model [5] that was developed in the IFEDH [6] project. This model has already yielded new insights into the course of the annual influenza wave in cooperation with the Austrian health system [7]. The contact models used within the framework are based on data of the POLYMOD study [8] works and contact models developed from the former [9, 10].
The resulting model offers a very versatile tool for decision support during the epidemic, as it allows to test and evaluate numerous scenarios (e.g. effectiveness of measures to “flatten the curve”, impact of measures on the health care system, estimation of required resources, ...). Due to the high quality of the simulation results, Austrian authorities (government and hospital providers) have commissioned the team to continuously analyze and assess different scenarios.
These results are being used by the authorities for planning and handling of the COVID-19 organization. In addition, Dr. Niki Popper, the scientific head of the research group, has been appointed to join the commissions of experts consulting the government and the Ministry of Health.