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3 million euros in European research to provide insights into the spreading of Covid-19    May 13, 2020

3 million euros in European research to provide insights into the spreading of Covid-19
May 13, 2020

Will we succeed in preventing the spread of the Covid-19 virus by closing down schools and working from home?  What impact will such measures have on our economy? 

How successful are we when it comes to adjusting our behaviour and how are we dealing with all the information being fed to us about the coronavirus?  These are just a few of the questions the European consortium EpiPose, with UHasselt as coordinator and UAntwerpen as Flemish partner, will be looking to answer during the coming weeks.  They have been awarded 3 million euros in European funding via the Horizon2020 programme to conduct this research.

“To prevent the further spreading of the coronavirus Covid-19 in our country and the rest of Europe, measures had to be put in place,” says prof. dr. Niel Hens (UHasselt/UAntwerpen) and coordinator of the EpiPose consortium.  “Our consortium, which in addition to UHasselt and UAntwerpen consists of partner institutions across various countries, aims to help authorities determine the types of measures that could be implemented and monitor the impact thereof.”

Since January, the consortium has been working intensively on calculations and simulations upon which authorities can base their decisions.  For example, metapopulation models measuring the impact of remote working and school closures on the further spreading of the virus, formed the basis of imposed measures.  “These models were already available for Belgium and France and have been utilized for quite some time to effectively predict the spreading of the seasonal flu.  It is of course a different situation in the case of Covid-19 seeing as we do not yet have comprehensive knowledge about it.  For example, it is still unclear how contagious this virus is in children, something we’ll be working on to determine,” says prof. dr. Niel Hens.

While measures have an unprecedented impact on the population, conversely the behaviour of every citizen influences the success of the measures.  As part of the EpiPose project, a new international study is being launched on behavioural changes during the Covid-19 epidemic in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.  Additionally, the Italian partner in this research will be contributing important expertise on the monitoring of social media communications.  “Authorities will be able to gain valuable insights into topics and concerns that are most relevant within a population.  It will allow for more swift and appropriate responses when unnecessarily high levels of anxiety are noticed.  Or, when certain guidelines issued by authorities are not being adequately received,” says dr. Sarah Vercruysse (UHasselt).

Economic impact

Besides the impact of schools closing and remote working, EpiPose – the name of the project is a reference to the pausing of this epidemic – will also be looking at the economic impact of the virus and measures taken by authorities.  “UAntwerpen is studying the impact the virus has had on hospital capacity across various countries and will also be looking at the longer-term macroeconomic impact in various EU countries,” says prof. dr. Niel Hens.

Lastly, the consortium will also be creating a knowledge base on the virus itself and will be sharing information and data about the spreading of Covid-19.  “This will ensure that the data is more readily available to researchers across the globe, allowing them to use it in prediction models upon which authorities can base decisions,” says prof. dr. Niel Hens.

UHasselt offers a unique Master of Statistics and Data Science programme with a choice of specializations, one of which is Quantitative Epidemiology.