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Analytical expressions and approximations from simple models have performed a pivotal role in our understanding of infectious disease epidemiology. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, while there has been proliferation of increasingly complex models, still the most basic models have provided the core framework for our thinking and interpreting policy decisions. Here, classic results are presented that give insights into both the role of transmission-reducing interventions (such as social distancing) in controlling an emerging epidemic, and also what would happen if insufficient control is applied. Though these are simple results from the most basic of epidemic models, they give valuable benchmarks for comparison with the outputs of more complex modelling approaches. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Modelling that shaped the early COVID-19 pandemic response in the UK’.

Original publication




Journal article


Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences


The Royal Society

Publication Date





20200263 - 20200263