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Lockdown helped avert 3 million deaths in Europe: Study

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on June 08, 2020

Emergency health measures implemented in six countries, including China, Italy and the US, “significantly and substantially slowed” the spread of the virus.

While the estimates of the lives saved by lockdown and other anti-contagion measures initiated by the authorities in India triggered a controversy, a study by researchers from Imperial College London showed that the similar measures saved over 3 million deaths in 11 European countries hit by Covid-19 pandemic.

Another independent study also appeared in the journal Nature on Monday, said six countries, including China, Iran, Italy, South Korea and the US, managed to avoid close to 62 million additional confirmed cases by these non-pharmaceutical measures.

These studies come at a time when the questions were raised about the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare projections about deaths could have occurred if the nation-wide lockdown and social distancing measures were not implemented in the country.

The Imperial College modelling study led by infectious disease epidemiologist Sameer Bhatt and his colleagues found that large-scale lockdowns and other non-pharmaceutical interventions in Europe have been successful in reducing the transmission levels of SARS-CoV2 enough to control the epidemic growth. “This data suggests that without any interventions…there could have been many more deaths from Covid-19. The rate of transmission has declined from high levels to ones under control in all European countries we study,” said Bhatt.

Imperial College mathematician Seth Flaxman said their model based on data from the number of deaths in these countries pointed to the possibility that 3.1 million lives were saved in these countries. “Our model suggests that the measures put in place in these countries in March 2020 were successful in controlling the epidemic by driving down the reproduction number (the average number of cases an infected person is likely to cause while they are infectious) and significantly reducing the number of people who would have been infected by the virus SARS-CoV-2,” Flaxman said.

These countries went into national lockdown during the month of March, and the scientists calculated that these interventions helped drop the reproduction number to below one, decreasing by an average of 82 per cent, although the values vary from country to country. These measures would have helped avoid 12-15 million additional cases.

Meanwhile, another Nature paper by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, said emergency health measures implemented in six countries – including China, Italy and the US – “significantly and substantially slowed” the spread of the virus. The findings come at a time leaders worldwide struggle to balance the enormous and highly visible economic costs of emergency health measures against their public health benefits, which are difficult to see.

The study, led by Solomon Hsiang, director of UC Berkeley’s Global Policy Laboratory, is said to be one of the first peer-reviewed analysis of local, regional and national policies that looked into the public health impact of travel restrictions, business and school closures, shelter-in-place orders and other non-pharmaceutical interventions. It found that the measures could avert roughly 530 million COVID-19 infections and 62 million “confirmed” cases, given limited testing in each country.

“The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity’s greatest collective achievements," Hsiang said. "I don’t think any human endeavour has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time. There have been huge personal costs to staying home and cancelling events, but the data show that each day made a profound difference. By using science and cooperating, we changed the course of history,” he observed.

Published on June 08, 2020

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