[AMA] I'm a VIC-Based COVID-19 Modeller

Hey Guys!

New restrictions for everyone in VIC today! I'm an academic at a major university based in VIC and have been involved in projects modelling the outbreak of COVID-19 as well as its social and economic impacts. By way of background, I have worked as an economist for my entire professional career, in government, private sector, teaching, and academic roles.

Ask me anything! I'll reply if I feel I'm qualified.

NB. This is not political and I won't comment on any overly political points. My focus is on understanding what the data says, disentangling what are facts from what is sensationalism, and thinking about the economic impacts of the pandemic.

closed Comments

          • @p1 ama: You dont want to talk about China yet you talk about Taiwan. :D
            CCP gonna be on your ass.

            Funny though Taiwan knows how the CCP runs and thats why they locked down hard and fast before in early Jan, they knew data from China cant be trusted.

            Also they didnt listen to the world health organisation, unlike the rest of the other countries. useless WHO lol

      • +1

        The media brought up the notion of super-spreaders. Do you think this is a relevant factor to include in the model?

  • +5

    one of my problems with the data is that people are being incentivised to get tested. people are getting tested whether they have symptoms or not (eg. a friend wasn't allowed to go to a dentist appointment without having a test done).

    positive Cases does not equate to hospitalisations.

    more than 1.6M tests done in Vic. the positive rate is reflective of total test positives (including repeat tests on the same person). unique positive rate would be lower

    we are almost 6 months into a pandemic, as of yesterday 107 of the 123 deaths in Vic were all in aged care.
    I'd like to see stats of deaths in aged care of this year versus previous years… i highly doubt there is much difference.

    there's been no influenza cases since feb/march… did the flu just disappear this year?

    • -1

      Yes no flu because of covid prevention measures

      • Right….. we've wiped out influenza, which just so happens to be another of the coronavirus family just like the common cold.

        If you think that you are deluded.

        No one has isolated the COVID virus. They are not testing for COVID. so tell me what exactly are they testing positive for.

        The inventor of the RT PCR test even stated that this is not what the test was designed for.

        • Coronaviruses are somewhere around 20% responsible for common colds, but I think that number varies between continents. Those are not the flu. If you've had a cold that was caused by a coronavirus, you may actually have some defense against covid-19, according to some (speculative?) articles.

          Covid-19 is different from influenza, it's a novel virus not previously seen in humans (hence the term novel)

          If you want to pursue conspiracy theories, I don't think this is the thread for it.

    • I'd like to see stats of deaths in aged care of this year versus previous years

      I doubt very much there were this many deaths in aged care over a three week period last year. No need for stats to see what blind Freddy can see.

      • +2

        2000 deaths per week in people aged 75 and older (106k for the year 2017).

        In 2017, there were 160,909 deaths registered in Australia. The majority of deaths in Australia, like other developed countries, occur among older people. Sixty-six per cent of deaths registered in Australia in 2017 were among people aged 75 or over (60% for males and 73% for females).

        Influenza and pneumonia
        was an associated cause of death for
        29% of deaths due to asthma
        25% of deaths due to COPD
        20% of deaths due to dementia and Alzheimer disease

        blind freddy isn't looking, that's why….


        • What are the stats for July 2019 vs July 2020 in Vic ?

      • Most people in Australia die in aged care, as 80% of the elderly use aged care services. I guess 50+ percent of the daily ~450 death in Australia occur in aged care.

    • 107 deaths isn't a statistically high number, so no you won't see much difference overall from last year.

      Without sufficient action (restrictions, masks, lockdown) this number would be massively higher though.

    • I can see what you mean.

      However I disagree with your point. I don’t think it’s incentivising as much as it is precaution per se. If your friend was positive, he may well have given it to the dentist, who could end up in ICU. there is evidence suggesting that viral load plays a part in the severity of an infection. Thus it should only make sense that the dentist is appropriately operating on patients who tested negative. This has happened on a few occasions in Melbourne already (I know of one myself, working in a hospital).

      By preventing today’s positive cases from getting their elective surgery (including hospital surgeries, not just dental), we stop tomorrow’s deaths.

      We already know what will happen if the virus gets to roam unchecked - just look overseas.

  • +6

    This is the first time in a while where I've read a genuinely informative and intelligent forum post. Thanks OP!

  • Sorry if already mentioned but lockdwons in other countires - have seen a peak at 21 days. You still don't expect our lockdown to work as well?

  • +2

    Contracting COVID is much more serious for certain demographics. Do the models take this into account? The government response treats people as interchangeable (as seen by focusing on sources of spread rather than incidence among demographics), so we can assume not.

    Action should be focused on the most vulnerable section of society to reduce COVID related death. Why are the models only looking at projected cases, instead of cases by demographic?

  • Do you use SIR model?

  • +1

    Thank so much OP. This is so informative and has changed my view. It’s very unfortunate as the spread are in places which are essential and need to stay open!!!

  • +1

    Beside excess death model, is there any offical data that helps quantify the long term impact of COVID 19? Many news article mentioned people recovered with COVID 19 still suffer long term health impact but I still dont know what are the implied percentages of those as well as their underlying profiles (age, gender, historical medical condition,etc)?

    The implication of the above could be quite signficant:
    - Less people in the work force
    - More future medical/rehab costs

  • -1

    Thanks so much for doing this!

    What is your estimate for total number of infected in Australia?

    (as is all the people who currently have or have previously had it)

    My rough estimate is 0.4% of 25,500,000 = 102,000 people

    Source - https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavir...

  • How much do you think trust in government and media played in the differing results in different parts of the world? eg. NZ vs USA with AUS being somewhere in the middle?

    • +2

      I don't think we're anywhere near the middle. Relative to the rest of the world, we're only a whisker away from NZ in both our social obedience and also COVID results

  • Why do you think everyone is concerned about the number of cases rather than the number or deaths / death rate?

    With the number of cases going up but the deaths still relatively low does that mean the death rate is dropping?

    • I don't have the data but I thought despite our number of cases going up, the death toll is still relatively stabilised because our ICU is still coping? The death toll will probably sky rocket when we run out of ventilators and other equipment have to choose between who to safe.

      The number of cases is still important, because the higher it is, the more people will be in ICU, which will lead to more people dying.

      • I thought most people ob ventilators end up dying….

        and death rates could fall significantly with treatment (eg remdesivir, dexamethasone)

        Wasn't the initial goal to flatten the curve to prevent over hospitalisation / ensure enough ICU beds available? I'm not one to buy into conspiracy theories, but I think some of the laws in place are overly draconian. We should've masked up way earlier, but not everywhere, just in public crowded places.

        • +1

          Most people on ventilators end up dying, but that's because they are barely hanging to life on in the first place if they need to be ventilated.

    • +1

      It's the same thing really.

      We know the death rate is around 1.5% (assuming health system not overloaded)

      So when you see 600 new cases in a day, then you know that nine of those people are likely to die.

      • Sort of, not really.

        Isn't it correct to say 600 newly confirmed cases?

        I mean, there could be 200,000 people out there with Covid, and feel fine more or less, but don't know they have it.

  • Have you done any modelling on how the cash payments to get tested impacts the number of tests and therefore cases (as most are asymptomatic)?

  • +1

    What are the reason(s) that Victoria have trouble flatten the curve this time? Something is not right for the situation

    • Last time it was returning travellers, easy solve with hotel quarantine.

      This time community transmission. Basically it is out in the wild, non controlled environment.

    • -1

      Because there were simple rules - maybe too simple and people decided to try use loopholes to get around it

      if the second stage 3 rules were followed - this wouldve flattened. it is obvious it only takes a small proportion of people to break the rules for it to ruin for everyone

      Think about this. yesterday under stage 4 rules - 800 of the 3000 people isolating werent home. if those 800 gave it to 1.5 people, youre in it for days

  • Thanks for the thread, great source of information that’s not mainstream media. I’ve always been interested in data! My questions are:

    1. Your modelling on economic recovery is based on past global pandemics (Spanish flu) or recent domestic events - however, given the global nature of the pandemic and globalisation of trade, do you think previous recovery times/trends are still valid?

    2. You mention that theory is different to enactable policy; who models policy and its effectiveness? How detail do you think this analysis is?


    • +2

      Your modelling on economic recovery is based on past global pandemics (Spanish flu) or recent domestic events - however, given the global nature of the pandemic and globalisation of trade, do you think previous recovery times/trends are still valid?

      I haven't modelled economic recovery (per se), that's much harder than modelling the impacts. However, the downturn caused by COVID-19 is just a very temporary negative shock to consumer demand (as people can't go out and buy things). The moment that they can, this will skyrocket and largely revert back to normal very quickly.

      I'd say this - if I had to hazard a guess, this is much better than a large scale natural disaster. The effect of this would be much less than if Melbourne was hit by a tsuanmi (for instance).

      You mention that theory is different to enactable policy; who models policy and its effectiveness? How detail do you think this analysis is?

      Of course it is. You have people who work in government who models policy. I would say the analysis is quite different to the sort of analysis you see in academia. They don't have the same luxuries. It's hard to say whether people who make policy end up enacting policy that is effective. The problem is that you are always going to judge policy "after the fact", which is never going to be fair to the people who have to decide on policy in advance.

  • +1

    I have heard a story of a person who went to get tested, filled out their details and waited in line, then decided the line was too long and left, 2 days later they got a 'positive' result.
    Lets say that there was no cross check of personal details with the actual sample being taken and assuming at least 1 testing centre in VIC made this mistake, this would mean there would still be plenty of people who think they are negative but actually positive running around, and vice versa.
    Given the above assumption, and if it were modelled, do you think this would explain the 'unexplained' community transmission cases VIC has been having recently?

    • +1

      I have no idea, as this is a really specific case of something that's happening. I don't look at this level of fine individual data.

  • +12

    Thankyou so much for all this. I feel like you've provided a community service. My entire perspective has changed. I wasn't even aware how clouded my vision had become by the constant bombardment by media & policy (as you describe it) Refreshing, insightful, real perspective. You should post a two minute update each week, with any snipet of interesting data you find or want to share, help to keep us all grounded. Thanks!!

    • +13

      Fantastic! This is why I became an academic, because I was interested in learning about these sorts of issues.

      If you ever find your vision clouded, I think something I've learned is that systemic problems almost always have systemic causes. It's very rare that random actions of unorganised individuals can somehow lead to systemic problems. I spent much of my early career looking at labour markets (before my interest shifted to other things), looking at things like why certain characteristics predict employment and why certain groups of students were more likely to leave school early.

      What I found was that there's very little evidence to suggest that people who are unemployed are "lazy", or people who dropped out of school are "delinquents", but rather, there were very large systemic issues which predicted these outcomes. Similarly, my friends who research traffic safety cite road design as far more important to safety than whether there are "idiot" drivers.

      I suspect the same thing is going on here. Yes there are people who break the rules and do the wrong thing, but they alone cannot cause widespread systemic issues.

    • It's amazing how things can seem different if you avoid the 'qualified experts' at Herald Scum and Sky News.

    • +1

      I don't know, maybe an expert in international law could chime in?

      • +3

        I guess I was just more after ur personal opinion.

        Also to others: I would genuinely like to know why the down votes & why people appear to dislike these questions?

        • +3

          Maybe because you re not suppose to criticize China? also, OP said this is not a political post?

          • +1

            @Trioboy: I don't get why asking about holding a party accountable for an action is political?

            If I came on here to discuss a fine for speeding (as people do), is that political in your eyes?

      • +2

        I have a few reasons, some which are; china hid a lot of valuable information from the world at the start, this made it worse for other countries to handle the virus.

        And 2nd reason is the Virus originated from China lab, america scientists did advice china their security was not up to standard, and they run the Risk of virus leaving the lab. Unfortunately the virus did,the very first patient was a lady who worked with the virus at that lab.

        And the 3rd reason is how china has bullied other countries, especially Australia, when Australia supported the investigation into china covid 19. Such bullying tactics included; putting ridiculously high tariffs on farmers importing goods to china (such as 80% tariffs on Barley) and cancelling orders/not paying for orders. China also suspended & banned all imports of meat from Australian abattoirs.

        I genuinely believe China should pay. My comment doesn’t come from racial, or any sort of discrimination. Most or at at very least “some” of these debts, would have been avoided if China would of not done the above 3 things. We get punished if we do something illegal, isn’t it illegal china hid the virus from countries ? We & our children are going to be left footing the bill by increase in taxes.

        Also, I Highly recommend following “stop foreign ownership of Australia” & “a different view” pages on Facebook, they do a really good job at explaining the information that general media is too afraid to say.

        • +5

          there is no evidence it emerged from a chinese lab, so strike one

          there is no evidence that anything china could have done would have prevented the transmission of the virus outside china, other than locking down the whole country. so strike 2

          there is no evidence the chinese knew more about how to handle this than anyone else. they were the first to lockdown, months before other countries, that wasnt hidden (I personally know people with relatives in Wuhan at the time, and they were chatting all the time). strike 3

          bullying tactics - welcome to the real world, its not illegal. strike 4

          things 'the media is too afraid to say', well I'm sorry. That is what people say when they are spewing half facts and ill informed opinions, and then claiming its a cover up because no one with any objectivity is saying the same thing

          As an aside, do you know which country is the biggest foreign investor in Australia?

          • +2

            @dtc: I agree with 99% of your reply.

            The part I do not completely agree with is the second strike - maybe China should have stopped all planes from leaving their shores or at least cut domestic flights from the province. They knew about the virus and it appears it was their pride that let the virus loose on the world.

            • +1

              @skid: I do agree China probably should have shut down flights earlier but look at the rest of the world or even us? It took a while till we closed international borders, then another while till we closed state borders. By that time it was everywhere. Just really low reaction time unfortunately and sometimes too much politics in the way to make the hard decision Immediately

            • @skid: China did stop domestic flights from the province - just not international flights!

          • +5


            bullying tactics - welcome to the real world, its not illegal. strike 4

            To be fair though, if Iran acted like China, the US would have already nuked them to oblivion. It's not illegal, but China basically has a monopoly on a lot of world supply chains and has a huge population and they take advantage of that to act in a belligerent way. Plenty of things are not illegal, it doesn't make them desirable.

            • +3

              @p1 ama: yes.. pushing expansionist agenda right in the middle of the pandemic, bullying everyone who raises genuine questions.. not illegal but shows true character of the Chinese regime.

          • +2


            there is no evidence that anything china could have done would have prevented the transmission of the virus outside china, other than locking down the whole country. so strike 2

            China lied to the world about person-to-person transmission for almost a month.

            • +1

              @trapper: Not sure about "lied" but blind Freddy could see that P2P transmission was happening. WHO instilled doubt at the time.

        • 1st reason - this was reported in the media in late novemeber - most countries didnt even care. trump was in denial, probably still is in denial. australia didnt stop international flights til like late march? if china stopped all their flights leaving international , yall say its inhumane and forcing non chinese citizens to stay and day. we had to save the stranded aussies right or those who decided it would be nice to go holidaying overseas in april.
          should a county refuse return of their own citizens? Even til today, there are still flights.

          2nd reason - majority of medical scientist around the world would tell you this is false.

          3rd - welcome to politics. America does it quite a bit. look at usa vs iran

          “stop foreign ownership of Australia” & “a different view”
          - do you think each country should only be allowed to invest in companys and assets in their own country?

          • @astarman: I disagree with what most people have responded to my post. Thank you to those who somewhat agree with me & see the bigger picture.

            Just have a look at those 2 Facebook pages I mentioned, if you still think china has done nothing wrong & doesn’t deserve to be penalised, well nothing i say or do here will change your mind.

            • +2

              @cat4u: To stop foreign ownership people need to buy Australian owned and made. Problem is with our labour cost and taxes and what not, it’s very expensive! Would you really pay double/triple for the things you buy?
              99% of people won’t, so it will never happen unfortunately.

        • By that argument do you also think that the Victorian government should be held accountable for letting it spread into other states and withholding valuable information by not answering questions ?

  • +1

    Are you aware of anyone responsible for mid-term strategy, like under what conditions lockdowns will be relaxed, under what conditions international travel can resume, whether the 'suppress and expect local outbreaks' is still the actual national strategy etc?

    When do you think we can expect to hear from them? The lack of any "hope" is most of the problem for many people I know. They can put up with almost anything with some kind of end in sight.

    Saying "international travel will not occur for the foreseeable future" isn't helpful when the airlines can foresee flights taking off next July and I need to decide whether I can book them. IMO the excuse of it being too early to focus on anything other than the 'here and now' has well and truly expired - we should be given some decisions, or at least the criteria against which those decisions would be made

  • Do you have data on how dangerous this virus really is? How does its statistics compare to the flu in previous years? The flu is also dangerous to the old and vunerable, there was even an article last year for people to stay away from elderly. There's so much fear mongering going on especially in the media I'd be interested to know the truth. How many are asymptomatic? How many are feeling it's very mild?
    I'm no conspiracy theorist but I feel the cure is worse than the virus itself.

    • Far more infectious and far more deadly.

      Only a tiny percentage of the world has been exposed so far and we already have 700k dead with no sign of the infection rate even slowing down.

      It's incomparable really, tens of millions will likely die from this.

      • +2

        and that is with lockdown measures around the world. imagine 0 measures

  • Just read this confronting opinion piece https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/opinion/coronavirus-melb....

    Now… every part of me hurts when reading this, but in the interest of knowing my facts, is it actually correct?

    I'm not in Victoria so have no idea what the source of the spread is - is it factually highly attributable to non-English speaking communities?

    • I cant read that article because its paywalled, but OP has said in several comments that the spread is focused in lower socio economic areas because those people need to work to put food on the table, and dont have jobs that can be done by sitting in front of a computer at home.

      Lower levels of english will likely correlate to lower socio economic levels

      Of course, as was the case in Singapore (and I think earlier in Australia), people who dont have access to mainstream media, as its not in their language, will struggle to obtain up to date information. Health briefings are translated in to Auslan (estimated number of users around 15,000) but not into any other language, at least not for a few days.

    • +3

      Given it is a Murdoch publication, I wouldn't take anything I read at face value.

      • +1

        I appreciate them having the paywall. I don't know the names of all of their publications, it makes them far easier to avoid.

  • +2

    It's good to know there are people with a level head working on this issue. It wouldn't seem that way from the media most of the time.

    Thanks for your time! And congratulations on staying A-Political.

  • not sure if this data is in your modeling, but how bad things are going to be if they stayed in Stage 3? when they will see the peak and what is the infection and death toll by then?

  • Do you trust the WHO and how they sprout incorrect information constantly during early Jan?

  • +1

    Hey, I'm someone who has always been interested in modelling of data and increasingly more so after seeing the statistics which come out during COVID-19 era. Do you have any tips on how I could potentially land a similar job to you? Also, do you find your job satisfying or can it become tedious overtime?

    • +2

      You need to know what you are modelling well. There's a lot of people coming out of uni with data science or machine learning degrees who might be good programmers, but they don't have a good fundamental understanding of what they're modelling. If you want to do economic modelling, start with an economics degree.

      You'd need at least an honours or master's degree to be able to enter the market most of the time in this sort of field. In many jobs, a PhD is expected.

      I would also say pick a language and learn it well. Python is a good general purpose language these days. I use R because I started learning it ages ago. R is fantastic for analysis because of the package library. It's also a good idea to know some SQL so you can do data management. I would avoid learning other languages, particularly lower level languages, such as C or C++, unless you have some specific need computationally.

      • thanks for your advice!

  • What do you think about the increase in cases about five months ago being related to the increase in people tested?
    It was believed to be "spreading" and it is unfortunate that there was no way of telling when those people got the virus.
    Was there any consideration that the virus was spreading in the middle of summer - where we did not see excess deaths or hospitalizations?

  • -2

    What would you say about euthanising the 'at risk' and vulnerable to reduce the economical and psychological impacts on youth?

    • +2

      Wow you wanna kill people so that the youth can have a better economy and less mental issues?

      Is this like Ethnic cleansing in Xinjiang China?

      • What do you think about young adults committing suicide due to isolation, financial stress and a lack of perceived opportunity (basically complete hopelessness)?

        • +4

          What do you think of all the young adults killed in HK by the police and deemed as not suspicious.

          • -2

            @Turd: That is an internal issue in a foreign country that speaks a completely different language. If you want to waste your time being a provocateur, as an Australian that is your privilege.

            I am absolutely disgusted by how we have generally treated our indigenous population, from over enforcement to outside interventions. I am highly disappointed by how we treat our socioeconomically disadvantaged, again, with a focus on criminality and stopping 'free loading' instead of physical and mental welfare improvement.

            It's great to see you hate our under privileged youth so much you would rather change the topic to China instead of face the harsh realities many young Australians are facing today.

        • Just out of curiosity, if a young person was at risk, he should also be euthanised?

          • @wau2: Now you are thinking!!!

            I asked a researcher about who we should value more as there are other countries which seem to be sacrificing their vulnerable for the economy. I changed the argument from money vs people to people vs people as anecdotally I am hearing of way too many suicides.

            • @This Guy: Didnt the Nazi's kill off any disabled or mentally challenged Germans for the good of the country?
              Not to mention killing off all Jews because they were 'scum" as they saw it.

              So you're saying we should do the same?

              • -1

                @Turd: Right now, anecdotally we are killing off the socially detached and financially stressed.

                Who do you want to die?

                Workers or non workers?

                nOoNe YoU nAzI sCuM!!!!

                Right now we have picked workers to die. I used the word euthanisation deliberately because most people don't realise a significant amount of people are going to die. This pandemic has the potential to last half a decade or more.

                We had our chance at eradication. We could lock down towns and suburbs, but with all this advanced notice and exemptions the governments keep giving there is no chance of containing this.

                You might be strong enough to loose everything you have built in life, but is your partner? Are your parents? How about your children?

                Again, who do you want to die?

                • @This Guy: STAY AT HOME and wait it out for 2 weeks.

                  You had your chance to stop this, back in January!!!

                  Just the flu they kept on saying, no need for masks they kept on saying.

                  WHO says - This is not a pandemic, no human to human transmission.

                  • @Turd: My industry is just coming out of six months of no work. We are expecting a large intake to replace pre-covid people. Where did all these worker's go?

                    Bringing up China's internal issues isn't helping. It is driving a wedge between us and our largest trading partner, incentivising China to invest in new supply chains with other resource wealthy countries. All your 'social responsible' virtue signaling is doing is lengthening our recession and driving your fellow citizens to suicide.

                    If you want to be socially responsable, work with some of our excellent NGO's doing amazing work with some of our most social isolated and alientated citizens. Running your mouth about nazi's and China makes you look like a moron, and from this exchange, you clearly are not.

                    • @This Guy: We could have stopped all this you know? Stop all the deaths AND bubble Australia from the rest of the world.

                      Just the flu they say

                      • @Turd: Yes, but we have Scotty from marketing 'leading' the country.

                        He butchered the bush fires. He is butchering covid.

                        His only instinct is to do what is popular to keep himself in power.

                        You were criticising China earlier, but they have had this under (relative) control since March.

                        • +1

                          @This Guy: Is it against Australian the law to criticise China?

                          • @Turd: Are you reading what you are replying to?

                            • +1

                              @This Guy: Under NSL:

                              Article 38

                              This Law shall be applicable to persons who do not have permanent resident status in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and commit crimes under this Law against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

                              • @Turd: Nice virtue signalling. You are much hero!!!

                                I notice you like talking about Chinese issues but not Australian issues. We still have indigenous camps. We are still experimenting on them without their consent. Good on you for hiding your xenophobia and racism under the banner of social justice!!!

                                • @This Guy: ALL LIVES MATTER

                                  • -1

                                    @Turd: Please don't tell me you are a white supremacist. I don't like those people's ideas.

    • Dude.. what if the at risk and vulnerable was your own parents / siblings / friends???

      • What if he/she/it never had parents / siblings / friends ? :D

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