A group of University of Pretoria (UP) mathematicians has developed a website for rapid communication and exchange of ideas devoted to the modelling and mathematical analysis of SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes COVID-19) and COVID-19 itself.
Professor Jacek Banasiak – holder of the Department of Science and Innovation/National Research Foundation SARChI Chair in Mathematical Models and Methods in Biosciences and Bioengineering – and principal investigators Professors Roumen Anguelov, Jean Lubuma and Rachid Ouifki of the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics make up the group that established the website, UP Biomath Response 2 COVID-19.
Mathematical modelling provides a quantitative description of the dynamics of processes in applied sciences and engineering based on available experimental data and logical reasoning. All predictions on the size of the epidemy, hospital beds requirements, or the number of deaths presented by the authorities are based on mathematical models. An example of a model and its predictions, as calculated by Prof Ouifki, are shown below.
Prof Banasiak explained that since the COVID-19 epidemic was new and unlike known virus-induced diseases, successfully combating it requires a significant research effort, which also includes mathematical modelling aimed at understanding the characteristics of the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the epidemiological dynamics of COVID-19.
Due to the novelty of the virus and quickly evolving situation, the research is often likely to produce results only on specific aspects of the disease – just partial answers to research questions that are relevant only for a short time – or collect evidence for formulating hypotheses yet to be tested. However, the significance of the pandemic for the human population makes it essential to share results as soon as they are available to facilitate the advancement of research before a more comprehensive picture of both the virus and the disease eventually emerges. “Even incomplete but timely and scientifically based information will help the authorities make sound decisions on the course of action during the epidemic,” Prof Banasiak said.
Prof Banasiak is urging the scientific community as well as interested members of the public to use the site to publish their notes containing models, simulations, preliminary technical reports and drafts of papers for discussions and opinions, provided they are scientifically sound. “The purpose of the site is mainly to generate a discussion, so the submissions are not peer reviewed. However, they will be moderated to ensure that a scientific level of communication is maintained.”
He said that the UP Biomath Response 2 COVID-19 site would mostly attract local contributions. “We envisage that it will become a node of a global network as we publish links to similar sites of cognate departments and organisations in South Africa and abroad.”
The site was launched recently and contains mostly technical reports from the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics. Contributions should be sent to [email protected] and [email protected].
In another project linked to UP, the international SCOPUS-recognised online journal BIOMATH, whose editor-in-chief is Prof Anguelov, is opening a special subseries called COVID-19 Research Communications, devoted to rapid communications of peer-reviewed results on the pandemic. Professors Banasiak, Yves Dumont and Lubuma are also members of BIOMATH’s editorial board. The series will publish papers on any aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic including, in particular, on
- biological research providing an understanding of the relevant structures and causal relationships in the epidemiological environment, which can facilitate mathematical or statistical modelling;
- mathematical models of the structures, causal interactions and epidemiological data, and their analysis;
- mathematic models and analysis of the socio-economic aspects of the pandemic; and
- any new mathematical methods applicable to the study of any of the mentioned topics.