Controlling the regional re-emergence of SARS-CoV-2 after its initial spread in ever changing personal contact networks and disease landscapes is a challenging task. In a landscape context, contact opportunities within and between populations are changing rapidly as lockdown measures are relaxed and a number of social activities re-activated. Using an individual-based metapopulation model, we explored the efficacy of different control strategies across an urban-rural gradient in Wales, UK. Our model shows that isolation of symptomatic cases, or regional lockdowns in response to local outbreaks, have limited efficacy unless the overall transmission rate is kept persistently low. Additional isolation of non-symptomatic infected individuals, who may be detected by effective test and trace strategies, is pivotal to reduce the overall epidemic size over a wider range of transmission scenarios. We define an ‘urban-rural gradient in epidemic size’ as a correlation between regional epidemic size and connectivity within the region, with more highly connected urban populations experiencing relatively larger outbreaks. For interventions focused on regional lockdowns, the strength of such gradients in epidemic size increased with higher travel frequencies, indicating a reduced efficacy of the control measure in the urban regions under these conditions. When both non-symptomatic and symptomatic individuals are isolated or regional lockdown strategies are enforced, we further found the strongest urban-rural epidemic gradients at high transmission rates. This effect was reversed for strategies targeted at symptomatics only. Our results emphasise the importance of test-and-tracing strategies and maintaining low transmission rates for efficiently controlling COVID19 spread, both at landscape scale and in urban areas.


Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Wells, K., Lurgi Rivera, M., Collins, B., Lucini, B., Kao, R., Lloyd, A., Frost, S. & Gravenor, M. 2020, 'Disease control across urban-rural gradients', Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 17(173). https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2020.0775

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Last updated: 29 July 2023
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