Publication - Research and analysis

Coronavirus (COVID-19): modelling the epidemic (issue no. 69)

Latest findings in modelling the COVID-19 epidemic in Scotland, both in terms of the spread of the disease through the population (epidemiological modelling) and of the demands it will place on the system, for example in terms of health care requirement.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): modelling the epidemic (issue no. 69)
Coronavirus (COVID-19): modelling the epidemic in Scotland (Issue No. 69)

Coronavirus (COVID-19): modelling the epidemic in Scotland (Issue No. 69)

Background

This is a report on the Scottish Government modelling of the spread and level of Covid-19. This updates the previous publication on modelling of Covid-19 in Scotland published on 9th September 2021. The estimates in this document help the Scottish Government, the health service and the wider public sector plan and put into place what is needed to keep us safe and treat people who have the virus.

This edition of the research findings focuses on the epidemic as a whole, looking at estimates of R, growth rate and incidence as well as local measures of change in the epidemic.

In Scotland, the modelled estimate for R is between 1.0 and 1.3, with the growth rate between 1% and 5%.

Key Points

  • The reproduction rate R in Scotland is currently estimated as being between 1.0 and 1.3, as of 31st August. This is a decrease in the lower and upper limits from last week.
  • The number of new daily infections for Scotland is estimated as being between 169 and 278, per 100,000 people. This is an increase in the lower and upper limits since last week.
  • The growth rate for Scotland is currently estimated as between 1% and 5% This is a decrease in the lower and upper limits since last week.
  • Average contacts have increased for most age groups, with the exception of the 18-29 year olds where there has been a 55% reduction in contacts. This has driven an overall reduction of approximately 10% in the last two weeks (comparing surveys pertaining to 26th August - 1st September and 9th September - 15th September) with a current level of 4.6 daily contacts.
  • Mean contacts within the work have decreased by 20% in the last two weeks whereas contacts within the home and other setting (contacts outside home, school and work) have remained at a similar level.
  • The largest increases have been observed for 40-49 year old (+17%) and for 50-59 year olds (+12%). However, those aged between 18-29 decreased their average contacts by approximately 55%, which has driven the overall reduction in average contacts for the adult population.
  • The highest interactions between age groups is between those 40-49 with those under 18. The biggest decrease in interactions in the last two weeks is seen between those within 18-29 age group with individuals aged under 18.
  • The proportion of individuals using public transport deceased from approximately 25% to 22% with individuals visiting a non-essential shop also decreasing, from 42% to 39%, in the last two weeks.
  • The proportion of individuals wearing a face covering where they have at least one contact outside of the home. This has increased slightly compared to two weeks prior, from 80% to 82%.
  • Hospitalisations are rising. Future hospital occupancy and intensive care use are likely to continue rising.
  • Modelled rates of positive tests per 100K using data to 13th September indicate that, for the week commencing 26th September 2021, there are 29 local authorities which are expected to exceed 50 cases per 100k with at least 75% probability.
  • Of these, 13 local authorities are expected to exceed 300 cases per 100k with at least 75% probability. These are East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Fife, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian.
  • There are no local authorities which are expected to exceed 500 cases per 100k with at least 75% probability.
  • Nationwide, levels of Covid-19 in wastewater have risen by around 56% since the previous week.
  • As a result Covid-19 levels in wastewater this week are at the highest reported since the start of the pandemic.
  • Modelling of Long Covid gives estimates that on 3rd October 2021 between 0.8% and 2.2% of the population are projected to experience symptoms for 12 weeks or more after their first suspected Covid infection in Scotland. This is unchanged from last week.

Recent cases

Figure 1 shows the number of cases reported in Scotland between May and September 2021. The vertical dashed lines indicate the cut off points for each of the modelling inputs; after these dates, the number of cases is not incorporated into the outputs.

Figure 1: Cases reported in Scotland to 15th September 2021

A chart showing the number of cases reported in Scotland between May and September, and the cut off points for each of the modelling inputs.

R, growth rate and incidence are as of 31st August (dashed line 1). The medium term projections by the Scottish Government of infections, hospitalisations and ICU beds, the modelled rates of positive tests per 100k, the wastewater analysis and the long Covid analysis use data to 13th September (dashed line 2). Contact pattern data is to 15th September (dashed line 3).

Overview of Scottish Government Modelling

Modelling outputs are provided here on the current epidemic in Scotland as a whole, based on a range of methods. Because it takes a little over three weeks on average for a person who catches Covid-19 to show symptoms, become sick, and either die or recover, there is a time lag in what our model can tell us about any re-emergence of the epidemic and where in Scotland this might occur.

However modelling of Covid-19 deaths is an important measure of where Scotland lies in its epidemic as a whole. In addition, the modelling groups that feed into the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) consensus use a range of other data along with deaths in their estimates of R and the growth rate. These outputs are provided in this research findings. The type of data used in each model to estimate R is highlighted in Figure 2.

We use the Scottish Contact Survey (SCS) to inform a modelling technique based on the number of contacts between people. Over time, a greater proportion of the population will be vaccinated. This is likely to impact contact patterns and will become a greater part of the analysis going forwards.

The logistical model utilises results from the epidemiological modelling, principally the number of new infections. The results are split down by age group, and the model is used to give a projection of the number of people that will go to hospital, and potentially to ICU. This will continue to be based on both what we know about how different age groups are affected by the disease and the vaccination rate for those groups to estimate the proportion of cases that will require hospital, and the length of time people that people will stay there.

What the modelling tells us about the epidemic as a whole

The R value and growth rates are estimated by several independent modelling groups based in universities, Public Health England (PHE) and the Joint Biosecurity Centre. Estimates are considered, discussed and combined at the Epidemiology Modelling Review Group (EMRG), which sits within the UKHSA.

UKHSA's consensus view across these methods, was that the value of R as at 31st August[1] in Scotland was between 1.0 and 1.3 (see Figure 2)[2].

R is an indicator that lags by two to three weeks and therefore should not be expected to reflect recent fluctuations.

This week the Scottish Government presented two outputs to EMRG. The first uses confirmed cases, as published by Public Health Scotland (PHS), and deaths from National Records Scotland (NRS). The second uses instead wastewater data to estimate the number of cases, and deaths from NRS. Both outputs are shown in Figures 2 and 3.

Figure 2. Estimates of R t for Scotland, as of 31st August, including 90% confidence intervals, produced by EMRG [3].

A graph showing the range of values which each of the academic groups reporting an R value to SAGE are likely to lie within.

Source: EMRG

The various groups which report to the EMRG use different sources of data in their models to produce estimates of incidence (Figure 3). UKHSA's consensus view across these methods, as at 31st August, was that the incidence of new daily infections in Scotland was between 169 and 278 new infections per 100,000. This equates to between 9,200 and 15,200 people becoming infected each day in Scotland.

Figure 3. Estimates of incidence for Scotland, as at 31st August, including 90% confidence intervals, produced by EMRG 2.

A graph showing the ranges the values which each of the academic groups in SPI-M are reporting for incidence (new daily infections per 100,000) are likely to lie within.

Source: EMRG

The consensus from UKHSA for this week is that the growth rate in Scotland is between 1% and 5% per day as at 31st August. The lower and upper limits have decreased since last week.

What we know about how people's contact patterns have changed

Average contacts have decreased approximately 10% in the last two weeks (comparing surveys pertaining to 26th August - 1st September and 9th September - 15th September) with a current level of 4.6 daily contacts as seen in Figure 4. Mean contacts within the work have decreased by 20% in the last two weeks whereas contacts within the home and other setting (contacts outside home, school and work) have remained at a similar level.

Figure 4: Mean Adult Contacts (truncated at 100) from SCS.

A line graph showing mean adult contacts in Scotland for Panel A and Panel B in the Scottish Contact Survey.

Figure 5 shows how contacts change across age group and setting. Most age groups have either increased their overall mean contacts or remained the same. The largest increases have been observed for 40-49 year old (+17%) and for 50-59 year olds (+12%). However, those aged between 18-29 decreased their average contacts by approximately 55%, which has driven the overall reduction in average contacts for the adult population.

Figure 5: Average (mean) contacts for each panel per day by setting for adults in Scotland, truncated to 100 contacts per participant (from SCS).

A series of line graphs showing mean adult contacts by setting and age group for panel A and panel B from December 2020 to September 2021.

The heatmaps in Figure 6 show the mean overall contacts between age groups for the weeks relating to 26th August - 1st September and 9th September - 15th September and the difference between these periods. The highest interactions between age groups is between those 40-49 with those under 18. The biggest decrease in interactions in the last two weeks is seen between those within 18-29 age groups with individuals aged under 18.

Figure 6: Overall mean contacts by age group before for the weeks relating to 26th August - 1st September and 9th September - 15th September.

Heat maps showing the mean contacts by age group in the weeks of 26th August and 9th September.

As seen in Figure 7, the proportion of participants visiting different locations remains at similar levels across the majority of locations. The biggest changes are seen with those using public transport and also individuals visiting non-essential shops. The proportion of individuals using public transport deceased from approximately 25% to 22% with individuals visiting a non-essential shop also decreasing, from 42% to 39%, in the last two weeks.

Figure 7: Locations visited by participants at least once for panel A and B (from SCS).

A series of line graphs showing locations visited by participants at least once for panel A and B in various settings.

Figure 8 shows the number of people wearing a face covering where they have at least one contact outside of the home. This has increased slightly compared to two weeks prior, from 80% to 82%.

Figure 8: Proportion of adults wearing a face coverings over time (with at least one contact outside of the home).

A line chart showing the proportion of adults wearing a face covering over time (with at least one contact outside the home)

From Figure 9, it can be seen that the older age groups have similar levels of contacts and higher vaccinations than the youngest age group, they also have the lowest weekly case number comparatively to the younger age groups. Despite that they have higher weekly hospitalization levels and deaths to that seen with the younger age groups.

Figure 9: Average contacts for Panel B, weekly cases, covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths [4] and cumulative vaccinations by age band [5]

A series of line graphs showing average contacts, daily cases and deaths and cumulative vaccinations by age band.

What the modelling tells us about estimated infections as well as Hospital and ICU bed demand

The Scottish Government assesses the impact of Covid-19 on the NHS in the next few weeks in terms of estimated number of infections. Figure 10 shows three projections over the three weeks to 3rd October.

'Worse' assumes that infections have not dropped, and the recent fall in confirmed cases is due to a lower proportion of infections being detected. 'Central' assumes a larger impact from the return of university students and 'Better' assumes a smaller impact[6].

Figure 10. Medium term projections of modelled total new daily infections, adjusting positive tests [7] to account for asymptomatic and undetected infections, from Scottish Government modelling, based on positive test data reported up to 13th September.

A line graph showing the short term forecast of modelled new infections.

There is uncertainty as to how much infections will increase or decrease in coming weeks.

Figure 11 shows the impact of the projections on the number of people in hospital. The modelling includes all hospital stays, whereas the actuals only include stays up to 28 days duration that are linked to Covid-19. The horizontal dotted lines show the previous peaks in hospital occupancy, in April 2020 (lower line) and January 2021 (upper line).

Hospital and ICU occupancies are rising. The scale of any future increase in hospital occupancy and intensive care use is highly uncertain, and depends on the number of infections.

Figure 11. Medium term projections of modelled hospital bed demand, from Scottish Government modelling, based on positive test data reported up to 13th September.

A line graph showing the short term forecast of hospital bed demand.

Figure 12 shows the impact of the projection on ICU bed demand. The horizontal dotted lines show the previous peaks in ICU occupancy, in April 2020 (lower line) and January 2021 (upper line).

Figure 12. Medium term projections of modelled ICU bed demand, from Scottish Government modelling [8], based on positive test data reported up to 13th September.

A line graph showing a short term forecast of modelled ICU bed demand.

A comparison of the actual data against historical projections is included in the Technical Annex.

What the modelling tells us about projections of hospitalisations and deaths in the medium term

SPI-M produces projections of the epidemic[9] (Figures 13 and 14), combining estimates from several independent models (including the Scottish Government's logistics modelling, as shown in Figures 10-12). These projections are not forecasts or predictions. They represent a scenario in which the trajectory of the epidemic continues to follow the trends that were seen in the data up to 6th September and do not include the effects of any future policy or behavioural changes.

The delay between infection, developing symptoms, the need for hospital care, and death means they cannot fully reflect the impact of behaviour changes in the two to three weeks prior to 13th September. Projecting forwards is difficult when the numbers of admissions and deaths fall to very low levels, which can result in wider credible intervals reflecting greater uncertainty. The interquartile range can be used, with judgement, as the projection from which estimates may be derived until the 5th October, albeit at lower confidence than the 90% credible interval.

These projections include the potential impact of vaccinations over the next few weeks. Modelling groups have used their expert judgement and evidence from Public Health England, Scottish Universities & Public Health Scotland, and other published efficacy studies when making assumptions about vaccine effectiveness.

Figure 13. SPI-M medium-term projection of daily hospitalisations in Scotland, at 50% and 90% credible intervals.

A combination scatter and line chart, showing the SAGE medium term projection of hospitalisations against the actual hospitalisations.

Figure 14. SPI-M medium-term projection of daily deaths in Scotland, including 50% and 90% credible intervals.

A combination scatter and line chart, showing the SAGE medium term projection of deaths against the actual deaths.

What we know about which local authorities are likely to experience high levels of Covid-19 in two weeks' time

We continue to use modelling based on Covid-19 cases and deaths using data to 13th September from several academic groups to give us an indication of whether a local authority is likely to experience high levels of Covid-19 in the future. This has been compiled via SPI-M into a consensus. In this an area is defined as a hotspot if the two week prediction of cases (positive tests) per 100K population is predicted to exceed a threshold, e.g. 500 cases.

Because infections may still be rising rapidly in some areas, the local projections may not fully reflect this.

Modelled rates of positive tests per 100K using data to 13th September (Figure 15) indicate that, for the week commencing 26th September 2021, there are 29 local authorities which are expected to exceed 50 cases per 100k with at least 75% probability[10].

Of these, 13 local authorities are expected to exceed 300 cases per 100k with at least 75% probability. These are East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Fife, Glasgow City, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire and West Lothian.

There are no local authorities which are expected to exceed 500 cases per 100k with at least 75% probability[11].

Figure 15. Probability of local authority areas exceeding thresholds of cases per 100K (26th September to 2nd October 2021), data to 13th September.

A series of four maps showing the probability of local authority areas exceeding thresholds of cases per 100K (26th September to 2nd October 2021).

What can analysis of wastewater samples tell us about local outbreaks of Covid-19 infection?

Levels of Covid-19 RNA in wastewater collected at a number of sites around Scotland are adjusted for population and local changes in intake flow rate and compared to 7-day average daily new case rates derived from Local Authority and Neighbourhood (Intermediate Zone) level aggregate data. See Technical Annex in Issue 34 of these Research Findings for the methodology.

Nationwide, levels of wastewater (WW) Covid-19 have continued to rise relative to last week. The scale of the rise is dependent on consideration of a number of very large measurements at major sites, exceeding 500 million gene copies per person per day (Mgc/p/d). With those included, the national average this week was around 300 Mgc/p/d, while excluding these datapoints makes the rise more modest.

Figure 16. National average trends in wastewater Covid-19 and daily new case rates (7 day moving average) [12].

A line chart showing national average trends in wastewater Covid-19 and daily case rates.

What estimates do we have of the number of people experiencing long Covid symptoms?

The Scottish Government is modelling the number of people likely to experience long Covid symptoms. This has been projected to estimate long Covid rates in the future, based on Scottish Government medium term projection modelling, as set out in Figure 17.

This modelling estimates that at 3rd October 2021 between 45,000 (0.8% of the population) and 121,000 (2.2%) people are projected to experience symptoms for 12 weeks or more after their first suspected Covid infection in Scotland.

These are preliminary results, further data on rates of long Covid and associated syndromes as research emerges are required.

Figure 17: Estimates of long Covid prevalence at 12 weeks from 16 th February 2020 to 3 rd October 2021 for the 5th and 25th percentile better long Covid rates (showing 95% confidence intervals). ONS estimates with range also shown.

A percentile chart showing the estimated number of long Covid prevalence at 12 weeks, compared to ONS estimates.

What next?

The modelled estimates of the numbers of new cases and infectious people will continue to be provided as measures of the epidemic as a whole, along with measures of the current point in the epidemic such as Rt and the growth rate. Further information can be found at https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19.

We may report on exceedance in future weeks when the background levels of Covid-19 reduces so that it can be useful in identifying outbreaks.


Contact

Email: modellingcoronavirus@gov.scot