Exploring optimal control of epidemic spread using reinforcement learning

Sci Rep. 2020 Dec 16;10(1):22106. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-79147-8.


Pandemic defines the global outbreak of a disease having a high transmission rate. The impact of a pandemic situation can be lessened by restricting the movement of the mass. However, one of its concomitant circumstances is an economic crisis. In this article, we demonstrate what actions an agent (trained using reinforcement learning) may take in different possible scenarios of a pandemic depending on the spread of disease and economic factors. To train the agent, we design a virtual pandemic scenario closely related to the present COVID-19 crisis. Then, we apply reinforcement learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, that deals with how an individual (human/machine) should interact on an environment (real/virtual) to achieve the cherished goal. Finally, we demonstrate what optimal actions the agent perform to reduce the spread of disease while considering the economic factors. In our experiment, we let the agent find an optimal solution without providing any prior knowledge. After training, we observed that the agent places a long length lockdown to reduce the first surge of a disease. Furthermore, the agent places a combination of cyclic lockdowns and short length lockdowns to halt the resurgence of the disease. Analyzing the agent's performed actions, we discover that the agent decides movement restrictions not only based on the number of the infectious population but also considering the reproduction rate of the disease. The estimation and policy of the agent may improve the human-strategy of placing lockdown so that an economic crisis may be avoided while mitigating an infectious disease.

MeSH terms

  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / pathology
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / virology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Physical Distancing
  • Policy*
  • Quarantine
  • SARS-CoV-2 / isolation & purification