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avatar for Saúl Ares

Saúl Ares

Spanish National Center for Biotechnology (CNB) - CSIC
Associate Researcher
Madrid, Spain
The turning point and end of an expanding epidemic cannot be precisely forecast
Certain generic features of epidemics are well-illustrated by mathematical models, which can be remarkably good at reproducing empirical data through suitably chosen parameters. However, this does not assure a good job anticipating the forthcoming stages of the process. The future of ongoing epidemics is so sensitive to parameter values that predictions are only meaningful within a narrow time window and in probabilistic terms, much as what we are used to in weather forecasts. Epidemic spread is characterized by exponentially growing dynamics, which are intrinsically unpredictable. The time at which the growth in the number of infected individuals halts and starts decreasing cannot be calculated with certainty before the turning point is actually attained; neither can the end of the epidemic after the turning point. There is a short horizon for reliable prediction, followed by a dispersion of the possible trajectories that grows extremely fast. However, these shortcomings do not render epidemiological models useless: short term predictions can be valuable and, moreover, models are an effective tool to compare scenarios and design action strategies.

Short Bio:
Saul Ares is a researcher at the Spanish National Center for Biotechnology. His research focuses in applying methods from mathematics and physics to biological problems, more specifically being interested in biological pattern formation, that governs key processes in embryonic development of animals and plants. Since 2020 he has applied his experience in nonlinear dynamical systems and statistical physics to epidemiology, helping to bring into attention the limits (and strengths) of epidemiological modelling or how to use information on demographic structure and social contacts in a population to design efficient vaccination strategies. During these last two years he has had a strong presence in the media, helping to bring to the public scientific analysis of the epidemiological situation at each moment. From his Twitter account @omeuxeito he offered daily analysis of the situation in Madrid.