Assessing the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) on the dynamics of COVID-19: A mathematical modelling study of the case of Ethiopia

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020 and by November 14, 2020 there were 53.3M confirmed cases and 1.3M reported deaths in the world. In the same period, Ethiopia reported 102K cases and 1.5K deaths. Effective public health preparedness and response to COVID-19 requires timely projections of the time and size of the peak of the outbreak. Currently, Ethiopia under the COVAX facility has begun vaccinating high risk populations but due to vaccine supply shortages and the absence of an effective treatment, the implementation of NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions), like hand washing, wearing face coverings or social distancing, still remain the most effective methods of controlling the pandemic as recommended by WHO. This study proposes a modified Susceptible Exposed Infected and Recovered (SEIR) model to predict the number of COVID-19 cases at different stages of the disease under the implementation of NPIs at different adherence levels in both urban and rural settings of Ethiopia. To estimate the number of cases and their peak time, 30 different scenarios were simulated. The results indicated that the peak time of the pandemic is different in urban and rural populations of Ethiopia. In the urban population, under moderate implementation of three NPIs the pandemic will be expected to reach its peak in December, 2020 with 147,972 cases, of which 18,100 are symptomatic and 957 will require admission to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU). Among the implemented NPIs, increasing the coverage of wearing masks by 10% could reduce the number of new cases on average by one-fifth in urban-populations. Varying the coverage of wearing masks in rural populations minimally reduces the number of cases. In conclusion, the models indicate that the projected number of hospital cases during the peak time is higher than the Ethiopian health system capacity. To contain symptomatic and ICU cases within the health system capacity, the government should pay attention to the strict implementation of the existing NPIs or impose additional public health measures.