COVID-19 lockdowns around the world may have prevented 531 million new infections: Study
With the very low levels of viral transmission seen in some countries, the pandemic would eventually die out in lockdown scenarios, the studies conclude.
Two new studies have pointed to the effectiveness of lockdowns around the world, claiming that proper implementation in some countries has reduced the transmission of coronavirus and controlled its rapid spread, saving millions of people from being infected in the still-raging global pandemic.
In the first study, published in Nature on 8 June, researchers from the University of California, Berkeley report that shutdowns prevented or delayed an estimated 531 million coronavirus infections across six countries — China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, France and the United States. A second study by scientists at Imperial College London estimates that shutdowns saved about 3.1 million lives across 11 European countries.
Interventions to reduce the coronavirus’ spread in Europe have brought down infection rates down by an average of 81 percent compared to pre-intervention times, the Nature report claims.
In all the countries examined, the value for R naught — an estimate for how many people an infected person might transmit the virus to — was less than one. This means that each infected person passed the virus on to less than one person, on average. With the level of viral transmission as low as this, the pandemic would eventually die out in lockdown scenarios, the study concludes.
Back when the cases of COVID-19 first started to spike in early 2020, governments of countries like China, the United States, and Italy put measures in place – social distancing, shutting shops, schools, restaurants, and restricting travel. While the shutdowns disrupted economies globally and came with job losses and pay cuts, it was unclear how effective these measures really were at what they were meant to do: curb the virus’ spread.
“These control measures have worked,” Alun Lloyd, a mathematical epidemiologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who was not involved in either study, told ScienceNews. "(Lockdowns) have saved or delayed many infections and deaths.”
That said, with countries now easing restrictions and moving to reopen the economy, residents of these very same countries could be looking at a new surge of positive cases, experts say.
"There is a very real risk if mobility goes back up there could be a second wave coming reasonably soon, in the next month or two," said Dr Samir Bhatt reportedly said at a news briefing on 8 June.
"We’re very far from herd immunity," Dr Seth Flaxman, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, added. “The risk of a second wave happening if all interventions and all precautions are abandoned is very real."
Herd immunity is a form of indirect protection from an infectious disease on the prowl, which takes effect when a large percentage of the population in a region or country has become immune to an infection – either via vaccination or previous infection/exposure to the infection. Therefore, it cuts the risk of transmission among the population at large, offering a degree of protection to individuals who are not immune to it.
So far, around 5 percent of the population in hard-hit places like Italy and Spain have been infected, according to the researchers. They estimate that around 70 percent of people would need to be immune to achieve herd immunity.
Also read: After eventual lifting of lockdown, behavioural science must form key part of India's COVID-19 response
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