The great lesson of the coronavirus: confinement saved millions of lives

On June 8, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and Imperial College London simultaneously published studies that attempt to answer a key question: How would the new coronavirus pandemic have developed if governments had put in place measures of confinement and social distancing?

Solomon Hsiang's team at the Global Policy Laboratory in Berkeley investigated the situation in six major countries: China, Sir Korea, Italy, France, Iran and the United States. His conclusion: the emergency measures "slowed down the pandemic significantly and substantially."

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Up to 530 million people escaped infection

In this scientifically approved study, the authors write that travel restrictions, business and school closings, confinements, and other "non-pharmaceutical interventions," such as the requirement to wear face masks and maintain interpersonal distance, prevented 530 million infections.

Of these cases, only 63 million positives would have been recorded, as the detection capabilities of the countries were limited. The team of researchers studied the period until April 6 and analyzed 1,717 political measures.

Hsiang highlights how important individual efforts have been in the COVID-19 crisis: "The last few months have been exceptionally difficult, but through individual sacrifice each person has contributed to a collective conquest of humanity," says the researcher. .

"No other human effort has managed to save so many lives in such a short time. The personal costs of staying at home and the cancellation of events have been enormous," stresses the political scientist. "But the data shows that every day has made a difference fundamental. Through the use of science and joint collaboration we have changed the course of history. "

The authors of the Berkeley study did not determine how many human lives were saved thanks to these measures. They made this decision because an analysis of this type would create many uncertainties due to the dramatic increase in infections and the consequent saturation of healthcare systems.

More than three million human lives saved in 11 countries

Samit Bhatt's research team at Imperial College's Global Infectious Disease Analysis Center did dare to make that delicate calculation. Taking into account the period up to May 4, it shows that confinement measures greatly slowed the pandemic. The focus of this study was on the famous reproduction rate of the virus.

The researchers estimate that by that day between 12 and 15 million people would have been infected with SAR-CoV-2. That is, between 3.2 and 4 percent of the population of the countries studied. According to his calculations, the different protection measures saved the lives of 3.1 million people.

Do not neglect: the danger of a second wave

"Our model shows that the measures that were implemented in March 2020 in different countries were successful and lowered the reproduction rate below 1," says Seth Flaxman, who was part of the study as part of the Imperial College School of Mathematics. .

In this sense, it is necessary that in the future attention be paid to the development of the pandemic to avoid a new spike in infections, says his colleague Bhatt.

However, the research also presented uncertainties: "One weakness of the model is that it is based on the fact that each measure had the same effect in all countries. The reality is that there were great variations in relation to how the confinement was implemented. in different countries. ”In any case, the epidemiologist Bhatt concludes, that does not change the study's conclusions at all.

Source: Fabian Schmidt for DW