Coronavirus: Second wave 'avoidable' in UAE, AI modelling shows

AI-based forecasts highlight a possibility for a spike in cases in winter, but Dr Gareth Goodier, a leader in the public health response, is optimistic

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The UAE can avoid a second wave of the coronavirus if social distancing and measures to control the entry of infectious individuals into the country are maintained, a senior healthcare executive said.

Artificial intelligence modelling highlighted the possibility of a rise in cases over winter, but Dr Gareth Goodier, chief executive of Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (Seha), said this could be averted.

For the past few months, AI-based forecasts about how the pandemic will play out in the Emirates have been provided to Seha, which owns and operates public hospitals in Abu Dhabi, by a UK-based company, Draper & Dash.

"Our numbers are very small at the moment and controllable," Dr Goodier told The National. "The constraints on travel are sensible. Anybody coming back from an overseas trip now is tested and monitored and, if they're not clear, has to go into quarantine.

“If that’s maintained, and that’s in the gift of the government, I don’t think we’ll have much of an upsurge at all.”

[The AI modelling] was pretty spot on in terms of timing and volume, within a few days. It enabled us to plan for all of the resources required

Draper & Dash’s AI-based model combines local data with information on how the pandemic is developing globally. The company has also been producing forecasts for the UK’s National Health Service.

Predicting a second wave was “much more difficult than managing the first phase”, said Dr Goodier, because it was not just a question of the coronavirus in isolation. The effect of influenza season – which peaks in the winter – could be important, too.

Evidence so far from Australia, which is in the middle of its winter, is that social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and other precautions have meant that there is much less winter flu than normal, which bodes well for the UAE in winter.

Orlando Agrippa, Draper & Dash’s chief executive, said modelling suggested the UK and UAE could see an increase in cases over winter, but not on the scale of the initial upsurge, which peaked in April and May in the Emirates.

“We don’t think the second wave will be as big as the first wave," said Mr Agrippa. He expects "a meaningful rise in cases" but public awareness will go far in stemming the spread.

“When you combine an infection and disease like Covid with seasonal flu, where thousands of people die each year, we believe we’ll have a challenging mix of things to deal with.

“We’re predicting that for both the UK and Abu Dhabi from autumn. We believe Abu Dhabi will be behind the UK," he said.

An advantage that the UAE has compared to some other countries is the relatively modest population size. If control measures have to be introduced, Mr Agrippa said the authorities have “a lot more ability to move the lever” than governments in some other nations.

At present, the UAE has recorded almost 60,000 coronavirus cases and 347 deaths from the pandemic.

Seha’s efforts to deal with the crisis have included building field hospitals in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Dubai, plus the running of 12 hospitals in Abu Dhabi, dozens of outpatient clinics and a number of drive-through testing centres across the nation.

To produce the forecasts, information from other nations of particular relevance to the UAE were used.

For example, analysing how the pandemic has played out among Singapore’s migrant workers has offered clues as to how it will develop in the UAE.

Seha has also received forecasts from the Department of Health Abu Dhabi but Dr Goodier said the Draper & Dash model had proved the most accurate.

“It was pretty spot on in terms of timing and volume, within a few days,” he said. “It enabled us to plan for all of the resources required. Seha has played a big role and we took on something like 48 extra facilities.”

Forecasts have been especially useful in planning the number of acute beds that may be needed. Should there be a second wave, Dr Goodier said Seha could provide up to 1,000 critical care beds, compared to about 600 in the first wave of the pandemic.