Expert fears “potentially difficult” autumn situation

Simultationsexperte Niki Popper © APA / HERBERT NEUBAUER

According to Niki Popper, “the dynamic among boys” is also coming back to the risk groups. Corona traffic light is therefore an “important step”.

When looking at the Covid-19 epidemic, simulation researcher Niki Popper from the Technical University of Vienna expects a “potentially difficult spreading situation” in autumn. The current “dynamic among young people” could also lead, with a time lag, that the older risk groups are confronted more strongly with the virus again. When it comes to containment, there is still room for improvement, Popper told the APA.

In fact, in the summer the proportion of Covid-19 cases shifted sharply towards the 15 to 30-year-old age group: For mid-August, evaluations of the EMS data by Popper and his team show that around half of those over the The number of cases falling into this age segment is continuously increasing throughout the month. As a reminder, at the beginning of the epidemic, the focus was on 45 to 60 year olds and 60 to 75 year olds.

The forecasts of the TU Wien model around the lockdown in March would have shown relatively soon that the capacities in the health system would be sufficient. Based on the experience of the past few months, the simulation researcher does not see any problematic effects on the health system, especially hospitalizations, “because the therapy is much more efficient than in spring”.

However, it is critical to see the spread: “The pressure is already higher than it was back then. One of the reasons for this is that we are not starting with zero or two cases this time, but now have many herds widespread and probably a higher number of unreported cases.” said Popper. According to the models, the fact that the number of cases is currently not increasing is probably due to the structure of the clusters, the “counter pressure” that the measures still exert and the currently sufficient isolation of positive cases.

If indoor activities with larger crowds started again in autumn and winter tourism and the flu season started with the falling temperatures, the structures in the distribution networks would change and the measures taken would have a weaker effect. At the same time, the effort of the test and follow-up strategy (TTI strategy) quickly increases as the number of cases increases and is still unlikely to work sufficiently well for this case.

Based on the current data, this seems to be very different from region to region. “The tests take too long, it is still often unclear who is being tested and why, and according to the figures available, the tracking of contacts is likely to be very different in the federal states,” says Popper, who currently has “many mini Epidemics “sees” which we could actually also have under control. The instruments are there, only the interaction “just doesn’t work enough”.

In the new model calculations by Popper, under worsening conditions, there is a noticeable increase around the third week of September. Popper: “Then everyone says that the schools are to blame”, although the reasons are more complex. The researcher does not expect a real second wave, but a “meandering” that quickly increases again in the models from a certain point in time. “In the simulations, the increase depends directly on the interplay between the measures taken to reduce contact, distance and hygiene as well as the TTI strategy. If one factor increases as a result of the development, you have to work on the other,” said the expert.

The mechanisms behind the epidemic are now much better understood than in the spring. If the proportion of Covid-19 among the relatively mobile and often asymptomatically infected 15 to 30-year-olds is higher, it is also to be expected that the currently “well-protected vulnerable groups” will come into greater contact with the pathogen again. By then at the latest, the development will again be reflected in a multiplication of people who need hospital or intensive treatment, said Popper. However, since the proportion of severe cases due to improved therapies is likely to be lower in these groups as well, the health system can deal with it longer than in spring, even if one cannot feel safe.

So that it doesn’t get that far and the “basic pressure” remains manageable, the implementation of the TTI strategy would also have to become more efficient in order to be able to open as much as possible in autumn. Popper points to a positive property of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which, according to the calculations, is widely distributed via “superspreaders”. If you get the super spreaders from the contact networks, you can control the spread much better than with other diseases, emphasized the researcher.

In schools, for example, it is important to avoid mixing up classes; in winter tourism, clever concepts for visitor control and no indoor après-ski are required. “In the end, however, screening and an effective strategy to disrupt the propagation networks are crucial.”

Popper sees the planned Corona traffic light from the Ministry of Health as an “important step”. But a lot will depend on how politicians deal with the recommendations of the traffic light commission. Since here – in contrast to the procedure in Germany – many indicators such as the test numbers, the cluster situation or the hospital resources are taken into account and made transparent, the construction promises a lot of positive things because you can react in a much more differentiated manner to the dynamics of the spread. He hopes that such systems will in future avoid “non-targeted and too broad reactions” and instead take regionally meaningful actions


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