Aug. 27, 2020

BGU data scientist Prof. Mark Last (pictured below) says a further lockdown is not necessary if the current restrictions are maintained and there are no unusual spreading events. Prof. Last has analyzed the available data regarding COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths.
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“If we maintain the current restrictions, then my model predicts that we are at the end of this peak, which should tail off at the end of August or the beginning of September. “Moreover, according to my calculations, we need 1.16 million people with antibodies in order to achieve herd immunity and we are very close to that number,” he says. “If there is no unusual outbreak because of the return to school or trips to Uman or mass weddings, then the infection rate will start dropping. While another lockdown would certainly reduce infection rates, there is no need at the present time since social and physical distancing is working to lower infection rates,” he added.

Prof. Last is a member of the Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering​ at BGU and director of the University's Data Science Research Center. He has been analyzing health data for the past 20 years. He presented his findings at the AIME 2020: International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Medicine on Wednesday.

Prof. Last compared Israel’s situation to other countries such as Italy, Greece and Sweden. “Our health system has managed to keep the percentage of deaths from COVID-19 to under 1% out of the total number of confirmed cases. Other countries had rates as high as 16% (Italy) and 14% (Sweden) at the beginning of the epidemic and have recently pushed them to around 3%,” he says.

The outlook for COVID-19 patients who reach the Intensive Care Units in Israel is not so sanguine - about an 80% mortality rate, according to Prof. Last’s calculations. The global percentage is currently about 60%, according to the WHO. Prof. Last’s previous research, unconnected to COVID-19, revealed that the normal rate is close to 20% mortality among those admitted to ICUs.

Prof. Last’s model is based on the COVID-19 attributed deaths reported by the Israeli Ministry of Health on a daily basis and an estimation of the total number of infected people based on published results of serological tests rather than just on confirmed cases. There was a discrepancy between his model and the Health Ministry’s reported deaths until the Ministry released a correction last week. Now, his model exactly predicts the death rate.

“We cannot know the actual number of cases of infection unless we test the entire population every day. Initial serological tests indicate the ratio of confirmed cases to actual cases is about 1 to 10. Using those numbers, we now have slightly above one million people with antibodies in Israel and we need at least 1.2 million,” he explains.

Therefore, he is cautiously optimistic about the COVID-19 epidemic in Israel. “We are heading in the right direction, but it is important not to relax our restrictions or get overconfident,” he warns.