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Predictability: can the turning point and end of an expanding epidemic be precisely forecast?

M. Castro, S. Ares, José A. Cuesta, S. Manrubia

No, they can't. Exponentially growing dynamics are intrinsically unpredictable. The time at which the number of infected individuals starts decreasing cannot be reliably calculated before it is actually attained. A standard SIR model with confinement shows that infection spread is inhibited only above a threshold. Confinement induces a slow-down in the expansion phase that does not guarantee an eventual control of the epidemic. A Bayesian fit to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic in Spain shows that we can infer neither its peaking time nor whether there is a peak at all. The dispersion of possible trajectories grows extremely fast, yielding a short horizon for reliable prediction. As unpredictability is intrinsic, not due to incomplete or wrong data, our study advocates for a scenario of probabilistic forecasting.


Registration date: 2020-04-23


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