University of Tartu researchers study the spread of coronavirus in Estonia

An interdisciplinary research team of the University of Tartu is actively collecting, modelling and analysing data on the spread of coronavirus. The researchers invite people to participate in a study on the prevalence of COVID-19 to create a database for mapping and modelling the spread of the virus. The research group includes computer scientists, statisticians, mathematicians and medical, genetic and social scientists of the University of Tartu.

According to Jaak Vilo, Professor of Bioinformatics of the University of Tartu, the study aims to provide a database for mapping and modelling the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, including the distribution of potentially infected persons by age, occupation and geographical location and its changes over time, as well as their differences from the general population.

The webpage of the study includes a self-monitoring tool for people suspecting or diagnosed with the disease. “It is an anonymous diary in which the participants of the study can add new entries on when the symptoms appear or disappear, changes in their behaviour due to the quarantine and contacts with people diagnosed with COVID-19,” explained Vilo. He emphasises that the diary also allows describing past symptoms.

Hedi Peterson, Senior Research Fellow of Bioinformatics at the Institute of Computer Science of the University of Tartu, says that both asymptomatic people and those suspecting or diagnosed with infection are invited to participate in the study. “Knowledge of the possible contacts of asymptomatic people with infected people and their behavioural patterns in quarantine helps to apply the results to the entire population,” said Peterson. She adds that the more people participate in the study, the better it is to analyse the epidemiology and course of the disease on both individual and population level.

The study has been approved by the Ethics Committee of the University of Tartu and follows all the data protection rules of the University of Tartu.

The coronavirus prevalence study was initiated by Hedi Peterson and Jaak Vilo from the UT Institute of Computer Science, Krista Fischer from the UT Institute of Mathematics and Statistics, Irja Lutsar and Pärt Peterson from the UT Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine, Andero Uusberg from the UT Institute of Psychology, Kristjan Vassil from the UT Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies and Lili Milani from the UT Institute of Genomics. The study is also supported by the UT High Performance Computing Centre, who provides necessary hardware.

On the web page, the Bioinformatics, Algorithmics and Data Mining Group BIIT of the Institute of Computer Science has also created an online tool for the comparison of COVID-19 trajectories worldwide, giving an overview of the impact of the disease in different countries. In the future, this page will also host other tools and reports created by the researchers of the University of Tartu. It already has the first version of the SEIAHR prognostic model, a slightly more complex variant of the SEIR epidemiological model, that takes into account the reproduction number of infection at different periods, the period of infection, the proportion of people needing treatment, etc.

The development of tools is coordinated by Professor Jaak Vilo and Senior Research Fellow Hedi Peterson. The tools are developed by doctoral students of the workgroup Kaido Lepik and Joonas Puura and research software engineers Ivan Kuzmin, Uku Raudvere and Erik Jaaniso. Several members of the BIIT research group are among the researchers who model the virus prevalence data and thus support the research council of the national crisis committee.

Further information: 
Jaak Vilo, UT Head of the Institute of Computer Science, 504 9365,
Hedi Peterson, UT Senior Research Fellow of Bioinformatics,