February 15, 2022
BEIJING – A team of analysts from Lanzhou University recently predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to end globally by the end of 2023, with infections worldwide reaching at least 750 million.
The prediction was made using the Global COVID-19 Pandemic Prediction System (GPCP) created at the university.
Here are excerpts from an interview with Huang Jianping, leader of the prediction team:
Q: What is the most accurate epidemic forecast made by the system so far?
Huang: Since its launch in May 2020, the GPCP has produced daily, monthly and seasonal forecasts for more than 180 countries using epidemic data. Forecasts for the epidemic in 2021 in Shijiazhuang, Tonghua, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Zhengzhou and other cities were basically in line with the actual situation.
Q: What does the system predict?
Huang: In addition to predicting daily, monthly and seasonal waves for more than 180 countries in the world, the system can also predict important points, such as the maximum number of daily cases, the end time and the cumulative number of infections.
Q: What scientific data and related social or economic factors are taken into account when making predictions?
Huang: This forecasting system combines advanced climate forecasting techniques with epidemic models. The influence of virus variation, government control measures, people’s self-protection measures, vaccinations and natural factors – such as temperature and humidity – have been comprehensively considered.
Epidemic data used in the prediction model is downloaded from Johns Hopkins University. Weather data such as temperature and humidity are downloaded from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and NASA.
Q: Do new virus variants affect accuracy?
Huang: The system also applies to the current epidemic caused by variants of SARS-CoV-2.
Q: Can the system be used to predict other emerging epidemics?
Huang: For other emerging infectious diseases, predictions can be made by fitting the prediction model and parameter scheme.
Q: So far, how has the system helped contain the outbreak?
Huang: The purpose of the forecasting system is to use scientific methods to predict the development of the pandemic and to provide the government with a scientific basis to assess the epidemic situation and adopt effective control measures.
Q: Compared to other prediction systems in the world, what makes yours special? Does exchange and communication with your scientific peers around the world improve accuracy?
Huang: Our forecasting system is an innovation that combines approaches from fields such as atmospheric science and epidemiology to continuously perform global daily, monthly and seasonal forecasts from the onset of the global pandemic.
We also share our predictions with the WHO and experts in relevant fields around the world.
Q: What are the team’s areas of expertise?
Huang: The forecasting team includes experts and personnel specializing in atmospheric science, public health, applied statistics and artificial intelligence.
The establishment of the system was fully supported by Lanzhou University School of Public Health, Lanzhou University First Hospital, Lanzhou University Evidence-Based Medicine Center and School of Politics and International Relations from Lanzhou University.
Q: What are the main challenges for system operation and forecasting?
Huang: The biggest challenge for the prediction model is to improve the accuracy. Based on traditional epidemiological models, we use advanced statistical-dynamic climate predictions to improve traditional epidemiological models.
Using real-time updated epidemic data, we dynamically estimate and revise important parameters of the epidemiological model, such as infection rates, recovery rates and death rates, which greatly improves accuracy of our forecasts.
Q: How does the system predict the pandemic trend in the world?
Huang: Based on the current transmission of the Omicron variant and control measures around the world, the latest forecast result from the GPCP shows that the global pandemic is generally on a downward trend and may end by the end of 2023, the number total infections reaching at least 750 million.
Huang Jianping is the head of the Collaborative Innovation Center for Western Ecological Security (CIWES) at Lanzhou University.
Since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, CIWES has actively coordinated various scientific research forces.
Led by Huang, the prediction team worked for three months to develop the global COVID-19 pandemic prediction system and launched the model in May 2020.