UNSW Business School has partnered with Australian actuarial and strategic analytics consulting firm Finity to map vulnerable populations in Australia who are at severe risk if they contract COVID-19.

Researchers say the results will help make decisions about selectively lifting lockdown or social distancing measures which will enable a balanced approach to reinvigorating the economy while keeping the population safe.

The COVID-19 Susceptibility Index maps co-morbidities (age, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and lung disease) and actual known multi-dimensional characteristics of individuals in households. The dashboard highlights local postcode ‘red zones’ – clusters of co-morbidity risk factors that may have greater potential for severe illness in the case of an outbreak – across the country.

Finity principal and lead researcher Aaron Cutter says initial results indicate regional areas are more susceptible to severe symptoms if COVID-19 is contracted.

“The results are preliminary, but show that while the initial wave of COVID-19 cases was concentrated around capital cities due to population density plus proximity to cruise ships and international airports, these areas have lower proportions of highly susceptible individuals compared to the rest of Australia.

“The Index reveals that regional areas actually have greater susceptibility – not only because of age, but due to a number of other key characteristics,” Mr Cutter said.

“As Australia’s COVID journey matures, this preliminary information can assist attempts to model the pandemic’s development as well as help inform decisions regarding preventative measures.”

The Department of Health has reached out to the research team to use the Index.

Actuaries help during times of crisis

UNSW researchers are working hard to help key decision-makers understand the full impacts of the pandemic and implement viable solutions. Ranked first in the world for risk and actuarial studies, UNSW Business School has a rich history of helping Australian policymakers during times of crisis, such as the recent bushfires.

"Ultimately, our work as academics is aimed at contributing to society,” Head of the School of Risk and Actuarial Studies Bernard Wong said. “A fantastic way of achieving this is by engaging in collaborative partnerships with industry where we can leverage our respective strengths to evaluate problems from diverse viewpoints.”

“This is ably demonstrated in the COVID-19 Susceptibility Index project, where the combination of actuarial modelling techniques and a deep understanding of the underlying sociodemographics have provided insights that can inform Australia's response to the pandemic and help implement viable solutions.”

PhD candidate Alan Xian was thrilled to partner with Finity on the development of the Index.

“My PhD is essentially about sifting through large volumes of data for the purposes of inference and prediction. In the case of insurance, there is a lot of industry domain knowledge that can be relied upon when building models,” Mr Xian said.  

“I’ve learnt a lot at UNSW about collating information from multiple sources and combining it with analysis on empirical data to extract meaningful and actionable insights. These skills have been enormously useful in producing research like the Index.”

Find out more about the COVID-19 Susceptibility Index.