Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic countries relied on a variety of ad hoc order control protocols to allow for non-essential travel while safeguarding public health.

These included quarantining all travellers to restricting entry from select nations based on population level, epidemiological matrix such as cases, deaths or testing positivity rate.

Bastani and others published an article accepted online 22nd September 2021 in Nature, which reports the design and performance of a reinforcement learning system, nick named EVA.  

In the summer of 2020, EVA was deployed across all Greek borders to limit the influx of asymptomatic travellers infected of SARS-CoV-2, and to inform border policies through real time estimates of COVID-19 prevalence.  In contrast to countrywide protocols, EVA allocated Greece’s limited testing resources based upon incoming travellers, demographic information and testing results from previous travellers.  

By comparing EVA’s performance against modelled counter factual scenarios, they also showed that EVA identified 1.85 times as many asymptomatic, infected travellers as random surveillance testing, with up to 2.4 times as many during peak travel, and 1.25 to 1.45 times as many asymptomatic, infected travellers as testing policies that only utilised epidemiological matrix.  

They demonstrated that this latter benefit arises, at least partially, because population epidemiological matrix had limited predictive value for the actual prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 amongst asymptomatic travellers and exhibited strong country specific idiosyncrasies in the summer of 2020.  

Their results raised serious concerns on the effectiveness of country agnostic internationally proposed border control policies they were based on population level epidemiological matrix.  

Their work represented a successful example of the potential of reinforcement learning and real time data for safe guarding public health with the use of artificial intelligence.

The London General Practice, the leading London doctors’ clinic in Harley Street is on the Government approved COVID testing sites for test to release and all travel COVID testing.  

Dr Paul Ettlinger
BM, DRCOG, FRCGP, FRIPH, DOccMed

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