Emergency health measures implemented in six major countries have “significantly and substantially slowed” the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to a new research.
The study, led by the University of California at Berkeley, evaluated policies implemented in the United States, China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and France from the emergence of the virus in January to April 6.
In United States alone, 4.8 million confirmed cases and 60 million total cases were averted due to the strict lockdown and social distancing policies, the study found. This is nearly one fifth of American population.
The deadly virus so far claimed the lives of more than 111,000 people and infected nearly 20 times more others in the United States. The actual numbers are said to be far higher than these.
China’s policies are estimated to have averted 37 million more confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.
In South Korea, 11.5 million confirmed cases were averted due to government policies.
In the first peer-reviewed analysis of local, regional and national policies, the researchers found that travel restrictions, business and school closures, shelter-in-place orders and other non-pharmaceutical interventions averted roughly 530 million COVID-19 infections across the six countries
The researchers found that home isolation, business closures and lockdowns often produced the clearest benefits. Travel restrictions and bans on gathering had mixed results. While these measures had large effects in countries such as Iran and France, it had fewer benefits in the United States.
The researchers did not find strong evidence that school closures had an impact in any country, but cautioned that their finding is not conclusive, and that more research should be used to inform school policies.
The team found that in general, it took three weeks for policies to achieve their full impact on the spread of COVID-19.
The study’s lead author Solomon Hsiang, director of Berkeley’s Global Policy Laboratory, warned that as some countries are relaxing restrictions, “we might reasonably expect signals of any renewed spread to emerge on a similar two- to-three-week time frame.”
While some countries have already reduced infection rates, confirmed cases in many others — such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Peru, Mexico, Nepal and Nigeria — are just starting to take off.
Referring to these countries, the study said seemingly small delays in policy deployment likely produced dramatically different health outcomes.
A separate study, which was also published on Monday, estimated that shutdowns saved at least 3 million lives in Europe.
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