The dynamics that lead to the spread of an infectious disease through a population can be characterized as a complex system. One way to model such a system, in order to improve preparedness, and learn more about how an infectious disease, such as COVID-19, might spread through a population, is agent-based epidemiological modelling. When a pandemic is caused by an emerging disease, it takes time to develop a completely new model that captures the complexity of the system. In this paper, we discuss adapting an existing agent-based model for the spread of measles in Ireland to simulate the spread of COVID-19. The model already captures the population structure and commuting patterns of the Irish population, and therefore, once adapted to COVID-19, it can provide important insight on the pandemic, specifically in Ireland. We first investigate the different disease parameters that need to be adjusted to simulate the spread of COVID-19 instead of measles and then run a set of experiments initially comparing the model output for our original measles model with that from the adjusted COVID-19 model. We then report on experiments on how the different values of the basic reproductive number,
, influence the simulated outbreaks, and find that our model behaves as expected: the higher the
, the more agents are infected. Then, we demonstrate how different intervention strategies, such as vaccinations and school closures, influence the spread of measles and COVID-19 and how we can simulate real pandemic timings and interventions in our model. We show that with the same society, environment and transportation components among the different disease components lead to very different results for the two diseases, and that our COVID-19 model, when run for Leitrim County, Ireland, predicts a similar outbreak length to a real outbreak in Leitrim County, Ireland, but the model results in a higher number of infected agents compared to the real outbreak. This difference in cases is most likely due to identifying all cases of COVID-19 in the model opposed to only those tested. Once an agent-based model is created to simulate a specific complex system or society, the disease component can be adapted to simulate different infectious disease outbreaks. This makes agent-based models a powerful tool that can be used to help understand the spread of new and emerging infectious diseases.
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