COVID-19 has shown a relatively low case fatality rate in young healthy individuals, with the majority of this group being asymptomatic or having mild symptoms. However, the severity of the disease among the elderly as well as in individuals with underlying health conditions has caused significant mortality rates worldwide. Understanding this variance amongst different sectors of society and modelling this will enable the different levels of risk to be determined to enable strategies to be applied to different groups. Long-established compartmental epidemiological models like SIR and SEIR do not account for the variability encountered in the severity of the SARS-CoV-2 disease across different population groups. The objective of this study is to investigate how a reduction in the exposure of vulnerable individuals to COVID-19 can minimise the number of deaths caused by the disease, using the UK as a case study. To overcome the limitation of long-established compartmental epidemiological models, it is proposed that a modified model, namely SEIR-v, through which the population is separated into two groups regarding their vulnerability to SARS-CoV-2 is applied. This enables the analysis of the spread of the epidemic when different contention measures are applied to different groups in society regarding their vulnerability to the disease. A Monte Carlo simulation (100,000 runs) along the proposed SEIR-v model is used to study the number of deaths which could be avoided as a function of the decrease in the exposure of vulnerable individuals to the disease. The results indicate a large number of deaths could be avoided by a slight realistic decrease in the exposure of vulnerable groups to the disease. The mean values across the simulations indicate 3681 and 7460 lives could be saved when such exposure is reduced by 10% and 20% respectively. From the encouraging results of the modelling a number of mechanisms are proposed to limit the exposure of vulnerable individuals to the disease. One option could be the provision of a wristband to vulnerable people and those without a smartphone and contact-tracing app, filling the gap created by systems relying on smartphone apps only. By combining very dense contact tracing data from smartphone apps and wristband signals with information about infection status and symptoms, vulnerable people can be protected and kept safer.
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