Health or economy: new modelling for impossible decisions

Governments are grappling with the impossible decision of choosing health or the economy while both are in crisis.


To contain COVID-19, many are imposing lockdowns, introducing social distancing measures and drastically reducing economic activity. The consequences are dire, with long-term implications, especially for people in already-precarious financial positions, leading some to life-threatening situations.

But what if there was a way to help national and sub-national governments decide how to maximise economic activity while still working to get COVID-19 under control?

A new Australia-Indonesia Centre (AIC) Short Rapid Research project is attempting to answer this question.

The project will create a model using available data to help governments decide, at country, province, district or city level, which activity and connections to keep open or closed to reduce health risks to levels that can be managed by the healthcare system, while still maintaining the greatest possible economic activity.

An interdisciplinary team of Australian and Indonesian researchers with expertise in data science, maths and public health will collaborate on this novel approach using mathematical modelling, data and case studies.

They will explore the economic linkages between economic and population centres – that is, cities and towns – and map the supply chain activity needed to function in a COVID context.

“For instance, if the raw material is produced at node A, transformed at node B, and exported at node C, in our model, for this economic activity to function, node A must remain connected to node B and B to C.  However, if it is decided that the connection between A and B should be closed for health reasons, this economic activity will cease to function and generate revenue,” wrote project leaders Dr Pierre Le Bodic from Monash University and Dr Sri Astuti Thamrin from Universitas Hasanuddin.

“Deciding which links to sever becomes complex, especially when considering many economic activities with supply chains overlapping in different ways and generating different revenues.  By combining the health model and the economic model, and using control decisions that affect both, it allows us to capture the complex nature of the problem and help make the best decision,” explained Le Bodic and Thamrin.

“We anticipate that the Indonesian government will evaluate our method and findings and that ultimately our work will contribute to the Indonesian and global effort in the fight against COVID-19, hopefully saving lives and ways of life”.


The research team

Co-leads: Dr Pierre Le Bodic (Monash), Dr Sri Astuti Thamrin (UNHAS)

Participants: Dr Sudirman Nasir (UNHAS), Prof Andreas Ernst (Monash)


Australian Media enquiries

Marlene Millott
PAIR Program Officer
+61 427 516 851

Indonesian Media enquiries

Fadhilah Trya Wulandari
PAIR Program Officer
+62 8124 3637 755


About the Australia-Indonesia Centre

The AIC was established by the Australian and Indonesian Governments in 2013. It brings together 11 universities – seven Indonesian and four Australian – to advance people-to-people links in science, technology, education, innovation and culture. The AIC designs and facilitates bilateral research programs, taking research outcomes to policy and practice. It forms interdisciplinary teams that work collaboratively with stakeholders – policy, business and community – to find solutions to regional, national and global challenges.

Beyond research, the AIC’s outreach activities contribute to broader people-to-people links. It runs digital dialogues that seek to shed new insights. It supports the deepening of cultural exchange through a binational short film festival, explores respective national attitudes and perceptions towards each other, and brings together future leaders of both nations workshops, dialogues and other programs.

The Rapid Research program is part of the AIC’s Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research, funded by the Australian Government.  It is AIC’s front-foot response to a better understanding of COVID-19’s impact on Indonesia’s economy and society.  It brings together Sixty Australian and Indonesian researchers from the AIC’s consortium of 11 universities to explore three areas: COVID-19 People and Health; COVID-19, People and Connectivity, and COVID-19, People and Economic Recovery.

Photo by Devi Puspita Amartha Yahya on Unsplash.