The effectiveness of control measures against the diffusion of the COVID-19 pandemic is grounded on the assumption that people are prepared and disposed to cooperate. From a strategic decision point of view, cooperation is the unreachable strategy of the Prisoner's Dilemma game, where the temptation to exploit the others and the fear of being betrayed by them drives the people's behavior, which eventually results in a fully defective outcome. In this work, we integrate a standard epidemic model with the replicator equation of evolutionary games in order to study the interplay between the infection spreading and the propensity of people to be cooperative under the pressure of the epidemic. The developed model shows high performance in fitting real measurements of infected, recovered and dead people during the whole period of COVID-19 epidemic spread, from March 2020 to September 2021 in Italy. The estimated parameters related to cooperation result to be significantly correlated with vaccination and screening data, thus validating the model. The stability analysis of the multiple steady states present in the proposed model highlights the possibility to tune fundamental control parameters to dramatically reduce the number of potential dead people with respect to the non-controlled case.
complex systems COVID-19 epidemic containment evolutionary games system identification