Backcasting COVID-19: A physics-informed estimate for early case incidence

G. A. Kevrekidis, Z. Rapti, Y. Drossinos, P. G. Kevrekidis, M. A. Barmann, Q. Y. Chen, J. Cuevas-Maraver

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is widely accepted that the number of reported cases during the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic severely underestimates the number of actual cases. We leverage delay embedding theorems of Whitney and Takens and use Gaussian process regression to estimate the number of cases during the first 2020 wave based on the second wave of the epidemic in several European countries, South Korea and Brazil. We assume that the second wave was more accurately monitored, even though we acknowledge that behavioural changes occurred during the pandemic and region-(or country-) specific monitoring protocols evolved. We then construct a manifold diffeomorphic to that of the implied original dynamical system, using fatalities or hospitalizations only. Finally, we restrict the diffeomorphism to the reported cases coordinate of the dynamical system. Our main finding is that in the European countries studied, the actual cases are under-reported by as much as 50%. On the other hand, in South Korea-which had a proactive mitigation approach-a far smaller discrepancy between the actual and reported cases is predicted, with an approximately 18% predicted underestimation. We believe that our backcasting framework is applicable to other epidemic outbreaks where (due to limited or poor quality data) there is uncertainty around the actual cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number220329
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Gaussian process
  • embedding theorems
  • epidemics
  • time series

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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