Forecasting the spread of SARS-CoV-2 is inherently ambiguous given the current state of virus research

Melissa Koenen, Marleen Balvert, Ruud Brekelmans, Hein Fleuren, Valentijn Stienen, Joris Wagenaar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic many researchers and health advisory institutions have focused on virus spread prediction through epidemiological models. Such models rely on virus- and disease characteristics of which most are uncertain or even unknown for SARS-CoV-2. This study addresses the validity of various assumptions using an epidemiological simulation model. The contributions of this work are twofold. First, we show that multiple scenarios all lead to realistic numbers of deaths and ICU admissions, two observable and verifiable metrics. Second, we test the sensitivity of estimates for the number of infected and immune individuals, and show that these vary strongly between scenarios. Note that the amount of variation measured in this study is merely a lower bound: epidemiological modeling contains uncertainty on more parameters than the four in this study, and including those as well would lead to an even larger set of possible scenarios. As the level of infection and immunity among the population are particularly important for policy makers, further research on virus and disease progression characteristics is essential. Until that time, epidemiological modeling studies cannot give conclusive results and should come with a careful analysis of several scenarios on virus- and disease characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0245519
Issue number3 March
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious/statistics & numerical data
  • Forecasting/methods
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2/pathogenicity


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