Zhaozhi Qian, Ahmed M. Alaa, Mihaela van der Schaar
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) global pandemic has led many countries to impose unprecedented lockdown measures in order to slow down the outbreak. Questions on whether governments have acted promptly enough, and whether lockdown measures can be lifted soon have since been central in public discourse. Data-driven models that predict COVID-19 fatalities under different lockdown policy scenarios are essential for addressing these questions, and for informing governments on future policy directions. To this end, this paper develops a Bayesian model for predicting the effects of COVID-19 containment policies in a global context — we treat each country as a distinct data point, and exploit variations of policies across countries to learn country-specific policy effects. Our model utilizes a two-layer Gaussian process (GP) prior — the lower layer uses a compartmental SEIR (Susceptible, Exposed, Infected, Recovered) model as a prior mean function with “country-and-policy-specific” parameters that capture fatality curves under different “counterfactual” policies within each country, whereas the upper layer is shared across all countries, and learns lower-layer SEIR parameters as a function of country features and policy indicators. Our model combines the solid mechanistic foundations of SEIR models (Bayesian priors) with the flexible data-driven modeling and gradient-based optimization routines of machine learning (Bayesian posteriors) — i.e., the entire model is trained end-to-end via stochastic variational inference. We compare the projections of our model with other models listed by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and provide scenario analyses for various lockdown and reopening strategies highlighting their impact on COVID-19 fatalities.