Epidemic-Macroeconomic Model for sustainable development planning under COVID-19

Submitted by Julia Barrott | published 12th May 2022 | last updated 22nd Feb 2023

Towards Climate Resilient Development Pathways Annotation

This tool is an output of the SEI Initiative on Integrated Climate and Development Planning, which leverages technological and methodological advances and strategic approaches to reach both climate and development aims. The initiative builds and reinforces capacity of in-country planners to achieve their goals, and to enhance their ambitions.

SEI Epi Macro Model: Webinar (April 2022)


The Covid-19 pandemic has taken an enormous economic toll on economies worldwide, and the ramifications continue as new strains of the virus emerge, and public health measures and vaccination campaigns struggle to keep pace.

Health services have strained to keep up with the demand for care. Public budgets have struggled to provide financial support for people whose jobs were lost or upended by measures to control the spread of disease. Indeed, the pandemic experience has rewritten the “business as usual” script for governments, the private sector and individual households.

This upheaval raises new challenges for national authorities who are trying to plan for sustainable future development.

To respond to these challenges, SEI has created software to help national planners and policy analysts take assess economic trajectories in light of pandemic-related developments. The SEI Epidemic-Macroeconomic Model is a new tool to help planners explore future scenarios in ways that consider how the pandemic and related public health and policy measures may affect the national economy and the global economic environment. The software gives planners a way to examine potential ramifications for sector-specific outputs, value added and gross domestic product. The tool consists of linked epidemiological and macroeconomic models that generate pandemic-adjusted macroeconomic baseline scenarios.

The simulator enables planners to consider the impacts of key public health measures that may be imposed, such as international travel restrictions, social distancing requirements, isolation of people who show symptoms and/or high-risk populations, testing and tracing protocols and vaccination roll-outs and regimes. The tool also considers regional variations – differences that may occur  in rural and urban settings or in destinations that attract or are seldom affected by international travel.

The epidemiological model in the tool can simulate waning immunity, reinfections, and multiple concurrent disease variants. The published version is set up to simulate a baseline variant resembling the Alpha variant that emerged early on, and the Delta variant that later surfaced. The model can be modified to include new, emerging variants, such as the recent Omicron variant, as more data on the epidemiologic characteristics of the new variant become available.

The SEI Epidemic-Macroeconomic Model explained

What exactly is the SEI Epi-Macro Model? Who is it for?

It is a computer program that is a free open-source tool for government planners to consider the potential economic impact of the pandemic and the measures put into effect to limit the spread of Covid-19. It has a built-in simulation model that allows analysts to assess the implications of a wide range of possible futures or “planning scenarios” that take into account pandemic-related economic and public health issues and measures.

What does it enable planners to consider?

Planners can consider the impact of the global economic slowdown on tourist demand, and on demand for their country’s exports. The model also allows planners to represent the sequence of public health responses to Covid-19 that their country has introduced or is considering – measures such as lockdowns, closing airports, social distancing and so on. They can say how strongly those public health measures affect demand – for example, for restaurants or hospitals. The model then simulates the impact on the whole economy.

How does the tool keep up with changing situations on the ground?

Vaccines have proved their worth, and they are becoming more available. But more contagious variants continue to emerge. For example, scientists are just beginning to study Omicron, the variant that surfaced recently. 

Our understanding of the pandemic and predictions of the future will continue to evolve as new variants emerge and we learn more about their epidemiological characteristics. But we have designed the software to be flexible so that it can handle new strains, reinfections after vaccination or previous infection, and waning immunity. The example included in the software simulates two variants, including the emergence of Delta in the spring of 2021. Planners can also adjust inputs to simulate the spread of Omicron too as more data become available. In fact, the tool could be used to simulate contagious diseases other than Covid-19 in the future.

What inspired the development of the tool?

During the pandemic, users of SEI’s Low Emissions Analysis Platform (LEAP) tool began asking SEI for assistance with developing Covid-19-adjusted economic baselines to do their planning. We developed a tool based on an earlier model developed by one of the team members to meet that need.

Who are the intended users and how is the tool tailored for them?

The new software is intended to be used by planners in lower- and middle-income countries. Over two-thirds of registered LEAP users are from these countries. Their technical staffs often have high demands placed on them. LEAP, along with SEI’s water planning software WEAP, is available to most of those countries at no cost, so combining those tools with the “Epi-Macro” Model helps to overcome some of the resource constraints and allows them to carry out their own analyses.

Why is this kind of capacity important for planners? What can they do with it that they previously could not do?

Covid-19-adjusted economic baselines will keep national energy, water, and other planning scenarios more realistic. Strictly speaking, they can do this even without the “Epi-Macro” software. National economic planning departments, think tanks, and academics could generate modified economic baselines. However, if  those agencies were asked to focus on the impacts of Covid-19, they would likely focus on specific interventions or impacts rather than on providing inputs for long-run planning exercises. In this respect, the new model fills a gap.

Development team and funding

The Epidemic-Macroeconomic Model is a project of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Key contributors include Charlotte Wagner, Eric Kemp-Benedict and Anisha Nazareth. The project was made possible by an SEI Rapid Response grant funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).