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Tyrell - COVID-19 data/analysis/forecasting toolkit

Pearse Lab, Imperial College London


We use Tyrell to build and keep track of a common set of data, models, and forecasts as part of our work on COVID-19. It forms a perfect audit trail of how we compile and then analyse data, and you can track its development and changes through exploring its Git(Hub) archive.

If you are interested in reproducing the analysis within one of our manuscripts, please read the quickstart - reproducing an analysis section below. Using this software to rebuild and reanalyse everything from scratch can take a very long time, and following these quickstart procedures will likely give you access to everything you need within a few minutes rather than several hours/days.

Quickstart - reproducing an analysis

Smith et al. (2021) PNAS DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2019284118

To work with the data and outputs in our manuscript:

  1. Download the quickstart zip-file, doi: 10.5281/zenodo.4884696.
  2. Unzip it on your computer.
  3. The folder ms-env contains everything you need:
    1. Data are in the folder clean-data.
    2. To run independent regressions and generate results run: Rscript ms-env/r0-models-plots.R
    3. The code to run semi-mechanistic model scripts directly are also provided: rt-bayes-model.
  4. Running the downstream analyses from our Bayesian model run:
    1. Download the workspace from figshare, doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.14696841 and place in the ms-env folder. Files are large and this also contains the workspaces from null models (approx 9.5Gb total).
    2. Run the downstream analyses on the provided workspace with Rscript ms-env/rt-downstream.R 27082020-0358

If you want to re-build everything (data and analyses) from scratch, follow the installation instructions below and then run rake ms1_env_US. Note that this will take several days even on a computer with 12 processor cores, and you are responsible for checking your Bayesian model outputs for validity. To run everything from scratch, you will need to carry out installation steps 1-6 and 8-10 below.


Strictly, the only requirement of Tyrell is Ruby, and if you only want to download case/mortality data that would be sufficient (step 1). If you want to conduct statistical analyses (e.g., reproduce a manuscript) you will need to install R (step 3), and if you want to process GIS data you will need to install Python (step 2) and (depending on the data you need) setup additional data options (steps 4 onwards).

Generally speaking, Tyrell will try and do something and, if it can't because your machine isn't set up to do it, it will carry on anyway after letting you know. Such warnings are not errors: if you don't want to download phylogenetic data, then don't worry if Tyrell is telling you that you can't, for example! Our advice is to carry out the first three steps, and then see what happens when you try running a command. If Tyrell tells you it can't get a file or run a particular command, come back here and find the installation instructions for that command.

config.yml is used by Tyrell to keep track of things like the number of processors it can use on your computer, and API keys for data downloads. Below, we assume that you have copied the file dummy_config.yml to create a file called config.yml in the same directory. Tyrell will look for this file and use the options you store inside it.

  1. Ruby.
    1. Ensure you have Ruby (>= 2.5.1) installed (use something like ruby --version to check).
    2. Ensure the Ruby gems rake, open-uri, rubyzip, selenium-webdriver, and yaml are installed (use something like sudo gem install rake open-uri rubyzip selenium-webdriver yaml).
  2. Python.
    1. Ensure you have Python 3 installed on your computer, and that it runs when you type python3 into your terminal (use something like python3 --version to check).
    2. Install the egg cdsapi (use something like sudo pip install cdsapi).
  3. R.
    1. Ensure you have R (>= 3.6.3) installed on your computer, and that it runs when you type Rscript into your terminal.
    2. Change the parameter mc.cores in the r block within config.yml to tell Tyrell how many processor cores it can use for R scripts.
    3. Tyrell will try to install all required R packages for you when you need them, but if you like you can run something like Rscript src/packages.R now. We recommend doing so and looking at the output: sometimes installing R packages can be hard and, if you're on a Linux system, you make find looking at the package error messages instructive.
  4. RGDAL - install this if you want to process/clean GIS data. Two options:
    1. On Ubuntu run sudo apt install gdal-bin (something similar for other Linux distributions).
    2. On other operating systems, go to and follow instructions there.
  5. LaTeX. If you wish to re-build manuscripts from scratch, you will need to install LaTeX (
  6. External NASA data dependencies. There are three NASA datasets for which it is impossible to automate their download; their installation instructions are below. You will be given these instructions by Tyrell if you need them, but here they are as well for completeness. They should be put in the folder ext-data, which Tyrell will create for you when it is first run (see instructions below).
    1. NASA GPW 30s population density data.
    2. Go to
    3. Register and agree to terms
    4. Go to and download the file (should start automatically)
    5. Extract the .tif file and put it in ext-data
    6. NASA GPW 2pt5 population density data.
      1. Go to
      2. Register and agree to terms
      3. Go to and download the file (should start automatically)
      4. Extract the .tif file and put it in ext-data
    7. NASA GPW 15min population density data.
      1. Go to
      2. Register and agree to terms
      3. Go to and download the file (should start automatically)
      4. Extract the .tif file and put it in ext-data
  7. External airport data dependency. Download instructions for an airport arrivals external dataset whose download cannot be automated. You will be given these instructions by Tyrell if you need them, but here they are as well for completeness. They should be put in the folder ext-data, which Tyrell will create for you when it is first run (see instructions below).
    1. Go to and perform the following commands in the tabs listed
    2. Output: analysis: - all flights; ms excel, no sub-totals
    3. Dates: range: 01 Feb --> 01 May
    4. Airports: click 'ASPM 77' to fill all
    5. Grouping: select airport, date
    6. Select filters: use schedule
    7. click 'Run'
    8. download the resulting .xls file and save it into ext-data as APM-Report.xls


Open a terminal window and type rake. This will list the most commonly-used Tyrell commands. Tyrell is really just a reasonably large Rakefile (, meaning it is a series of nested dependencies. So if, for example, you want to reproduce Smith et al. (2021; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2019284118) by typing rake ms1_env_US, it will check what data are needed to run the analysis, what data you have already downloaded and processed, and then grab whatever new data you need. This makes it easy to use as a shared workflow: different people can work on different projects, each with shared data dependencies, and Tyrell will keep track of everything for you.

A good first command is probably rake dwn_data_cases. This will download lots of case/mortality data for you, and put it in raw-data. As part of its setup process, Tyrell will create new folders within itself to store data for you. It will also create a file called that timestamp.yml is updated every time new files are downloaded, time-stamping everything so you know what you're working with. If you come back to Tyrell tomorrow and want to update everything on your computer, consider running rake update_cases to download the latest versions of all the case data. If you wanted to update one particular file, you could simply delete it from your computer and then run rake dwn_data_cases again - Tyrell will notice that file is missing and will replace it with the latest version.

To remove all processed ('clean') data, run rake reset. To delete all downloaded files, run rake clobber. Folders and the timestamp.yml file are not affected by these commands, but timestamp.yml will be updated if you re-process or re-download a file.

Contributing / support

You're more than welcome to make a pull request with code suggestions, or to ask questions over email ( or in the issues above. Please remember, however, that we are under no obligation to accept pull requests or to help you with your own analyses. Providing all of our underlying code in a widely-used reproducible framework (Rake) was an extremely time-consuming and taxing process; we likely do not have the time to help you install dependencies.

Why the name?

The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and COVID-19 has burned so very, very brightly.


COVID-19 seasonal data/model/forecast toolkit






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