Mathematician comes up with model to help reopening of the economy


Lim working on his mathematical model based on daily new cases per district and the RO rate. He says he still needs to incorporate ICU data. — ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star

IN his bid to help the country contain the Covid-19 virus, Penangite Dr David Benjamin Lim has come up with a programme to better gauge the situation at the district level.

His model, meant to help the gradual reopening of the economic sectors, is based on two things — the daily new cases per 100,000 population in a district and the R-naught (RO) infection rate.

What he needs now is the intensive care unit (ICU) capacity rate in the state, which he believes could better help in his calculation.

“The reopening criteria for this model are how big the problem is (number of cases) as well as how fast it is growing (R0 value).

“It will help us judge where we stand.

“If the daily number of cases in a district is consistently the same with no drastic spike, and the hospital ICU capacity is running fine, then life can go back to normal in that district.

“Right now, the reopening criteria are too rigid.

“In my personal opinion, reducing some restrictions in certain districts should not be a problem right now.

“We also do have the advantage of being vaccinated as well,” he said when met at his home in Bayan Lepas on Thursday.

Lim, 28, has a PhD in Pure Mathematics from Stanford University in the United States.

It took him 60 hours over five days to write a code to calculate these values from scratch in a way that is easily applicable to districts in any state in Malaysia.

He said he would propose the programme to Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow next week.

Citing an example, Lim said the overall number of cases in Penang would go up if there was a cluster reported in only one district.

“But this would not show a proper representation of the situation in the state as a whole.

“When you group the five districts in Penang together and show a high number of cases, it does not equally represent all the districts in Penang.

“The figures are largely skewed.

“The same analogy can be said about Malaysia as some states have a far higher number of cases than others, like Selangor.

“It is not a fair measure to lump all the states together.

“Taking averages can be dangerous.

“For example, suppose you group people together and calculate their net worth but one person in the group has a much higher worth than the others.

“In this situation, the average is not an accurate representation of the net worth of a randomly selected person from this group,” he said.

According to Lim, the reopening approach would require deciding what the safe and dangerous thresholds are, which in theory could be deduced from the ICU capacity rates.

“I cannot incorporate ICU data into my reopening approach right now as this statistic is not publicly available.

“It is still possible to infer what is safe and dangerous empirically.

“For Penang, we know in the past when ICUs were full, we could use the new case numbers/R0 rate to set thresholds in my approach,” he said.

Lim added that he hoped the Federal Government would use his method in its decision-making process to win the war against Covid-19, and help the suffering economic sectors.

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