High practical benefit of early NRP 78 research projects

NRP 78 supports various research projects with immediate practical benefits: This is illustrated by two examples from the early stages of the pandemic.

Especially in the early stages of the Corona pandemic, research had to meet the great challenge of collecting and analysing data practically in real time and providing initial explanations of the new and complex situation of the pandemic. This research was very specific to the current situation and had to take into account the latest developments without delay. Two NRP78 research projects aimed to do just that: They provided immediate concrete benefits in the early pandemic phase for further research and for the development and implementation of public health measures.

One of the most important tools in combating a pandemic is simulations of the spread of the disease. The researchers around Kay W. Axhausen of ETH Zurich expanded the MatSim (Multi-Agent Transport Simulation) software with the results of the mobility study MOBIS: Covid-19. While many previous models were based on a homogeneous population, the new platform is based on individual persons and their heterogeneous characteristics, e.g. previous illnesses and behaviour patterns. Through the additional inclusion of mobility habits, it is possible to calculate whether several people are in the same rooms and vehicles. As a result, more precise prediction of the spread of the virus, enables on the one hand forecasts for future developments, such as the occupancy of intensive care beds in hospitals, which gained massively in precision through the project compared to the first pandemic wave. Secondly, the effectiveness of planned strategies can be better predicted, which is useful in evaluating containment measures such as travel restrictions. Altogether, these tools can increase the efficiency of the management of potential future pandemics.

However, simply devising an optimal strategy is not enough to keep a crisis under control. The measures ordered must be implemented in practice as well. Thomas Friemel and his team at the University of Zurich looked at the Swiss population's attitude towards protective measures and the resulting behaviour. The Covid-Norms project investigated the prevention behaviour of the population as well as the public discourse on the most important containment measures against Covid-19 in Switzerland. Weekly monitoring allowed to follow attitudes towards individual prevention measures and the willingness to support further measures in a timely manner.

In addition to monitoring, the researchers also looked at the relationship between different preventive behaviours. It was found that following a protective recommendation often also increases the likelihood of following other measures. For example, a vaccinated person is more likely to wear a mask compared to an unvaccinated person. The project provided a detailed understanding of the barriers and motivations for prevention behaviour during the Corona pandemic.

The research results were made available to the responsible decision-makers at the FOPH and supported them in developing an effective communication strategy. In this way, the planning of the vaccination campaign as well as later measures could benefit from the studies.

Such real-time research projects make it possible to react quickly to new developments in a pandemic and to make evidence-based decisions. The tools developed will be available for further waves or for future pandemics.