Mark Dekker receives innovation award for research into coronavirus prevention measures

Mark Dekkers
© Sjoerd van der Hucht for NPSO

PhD Candidate Mark Dekker has won the biannual Innovation Award presented by the Netherlands Platform for Survey Research. Dekker received the award for his research into interventions during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Dekker is a researcher at the Centre for Complex Systems Studies, and will defend his dissertation at Utrecht University in April 2022. 

Individual movements

Mark Dekker studied how we can use advanced data sources to obtain information about the spread of the coronavirus. Dekker and his fellow researchers replicated the first wave of the pandemic in the Netherlands in detail, which allowed them to study the effects of a variety of interventions. Dekker: “The RIVM model is based on groups – which is the norm in epidemiological research – but we wanted to look at the movements of individuals. In our publication, which will appear soon, we argue in favour of using a variety of models when making decisions and evaluating the coronavirus prevention measures. That would allow you to address the many aspects influenced by the policy, like health, freedom of movement and the costs of shutting down certain sectors or activities.”

Effect of the measures

What does Dekker’s model entail? “We created a 1:100 scale map of the Netherlands, where 170,000 ‘agents’ represent the Dutch population. The model is fed with demographic data from the CBS and RIVM data on the number of contacts between people per age group and location where the contact occurred, such as school, work or at home. The model was initialised with the number of hospital admissions at the start of the first wave.” Dekker: “That foundation allowed us to study the effects of various interventions. What happens if the measure ‘social distancing’ is adjusted? What happens if we work from home more, or not as much? And what effect do local measures have? We emphasise the latter intervention in our publication, because it’s an interesting one. It results in a slight increase in the total number of infections, but it allows a greater degree of freedom for parts of the Dutch population.”

The Nederlands Platform voor Survey Onderzoek was created in 2008 by survey specialists from CBS, the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, and DANS.