RAPID ASSISTANCE IN MODELLING THE PANDEMIC: RAMP

A call for assistance, addressed to the scientific modelling community

Coordinated by the Royal Society

Update 15 June

RAMP is now over half-way through its intended duration of April-July inclusive. Our present focus is not to start further new initiatives, but to build and deliver on the various tasks already underway. These were laid out in our 8 May update, still available.

TBelow is further information on RAMP's ongoing activities and plans. Once again, we thank all RAMP volunteers for their very generous offers of support for RAMP. This includes not only our deployed volunteers but all those whose offers of assistance have not, in the event, been taken up.

Overview

1. At least 200 RAMP volunteers have been deployed directly on research projects, either seconded to existing SPI-M modelling teams or within the new research teams that RAMP has helped to create. This volunteer workforce has had a material effect on the ability of SPI-M, SAGE and others to create scientifically sound policy advice.

2. The Isaac Newton Institute (INI) programme on Infectious Dynamics of Pandemics (IDP) is now in full swing, with about 80 long-term participants. Within the last two weeks there have been discussion sessions on contact tracing (with recommendations reported here), structured expert judgement, and whole-cost modelling. Many more topics are planned, including urban analytics, human dynamics in small spaces and environmental and aerosol transmission. Real-time participation at INI events is by invitation, but it is possible to register interest at the IDP homepage https://www.newton.ac.uk/event/idp. This page also has links to recordings and slides of the INI discussions.

3. The RAMP discussion forums (https://ramp-forums.epcc.ed.ac.uk) are fully operational with over 300 members. More would be welcome: any scientist willing to read and comment on research papers on COVID-19, even occasionally, can make an important contribution to the work of RAMP through the forums. They provide a mechanism to help scan the emerging COVID-19 modelling literature and identify items of potential policy value, which then get passed on for rapid expert review (see next item).

4. The RAMP Rapid Review Group offers high quality, rapid-turnaround reviews for work of potential policy relevance, including items identified via the forums. Review is available not only for scientific reports and papers but also for software and codebases. The hard work of the RRG, with its team of over 100 expert reviewers, has proven valuable not only to SPI-M and SAGE but also directly to other parts of Government.

Research Task Teams

5. The activities of RAMP's New Epidemic Modelling Task can best be gauged by visiting the following open repositories created by its project teams’ participants as indicated:

Other contributions will follow shortly from teams at Durham, Frazer Nash, Edinburgh and elsewhere. A RAMP team in Edinburgh instrumental in red-team testing the Imperial College CovidSim codes available at https://github.com/mrc-ide/covid-sim/ and this is now being tested for parameter sensitivity by a team at UCL.

6. Work is continuing apace from the RAMP Task Teams on Urban Analytics; Human Dynamics in Small Spaces; Environmental and Aerosol Transmission; and Within-Host Disease Dynamics. We expect the first results from each of these teams to emerge in the next few weeks.

7. The RAMP Task Team on Comorbidity Factors is fully operational and is now co-led by Ruth Keogh and Karla Diaz-Ordaz of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine alongside the Institute for Actuaries' Covid-19 Actuarial Response group. It has access to high-resolution patient data which will be combined with demographic data to help identify the subpopulations most in need of shielding or other protection against contracting the virus.

8. The RAMP Task Team on Structured Expert Judgement has performed its first exploratory study with participation from head teachers and others to help assess risk scenarios and strategies involved in reopening schools.

Continuity plans

9. RAMP is planning how best to build on the above achievements following the wind-down of its volunteer programme at the end of July. Of course, RAMP volunteers are free to continue with the work they have started beyond that date, as per their arrangements with the respective task leadership.

10. A central support operation for coordination, reporting, and the RAMP forums has now been funded by a UKRI grant (PI Graeme Ackland, Edinburgh) for 18 months. The Rapid Review Group, led from Oxford, expects to remain in operation on a voluntary basis at least until the end of the summer.

11. RAMP will not apply in its own right for large-scale research funding after the voluntary period ends. Instead, individual Task Team and Project Leads within RAMP have been urged to make proposals to UKRI and/or other funding agencies to allow continuation of their activities on a sustainable, fully funded basis. The RAMP central team will assist where possible, e.g. by coordinating cross-membership of steering groups for the individual projects.

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