A new study, published in The Lancet Public Health, describes how social distancing imposed in the region helped Wuhan get hold of the coronavirus pandemic. The study also proposes that extending these restrictions to April can possibly delay the second wave of infections to the end of year 2020.
"If those waves come too quickly, that could overwhelm health systems."@TheLancetPH study by @cmmid_lshtm has found extending #PhysicalDistancing measures in Wuhan until April may delay a second wave of #COVID19 cases.
— London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (@LSHTM) March 26, 2020
More COVID19 work from @cmmid_lshtm. Updated analysis by @kiesha_prem @yangliubeijing and others on the potential impact of social distancing intervention measures in Wuhan, and what might happen when the interventions stop. https://t.co/bdhxcMaLW5 pic.twitter.com/5kt2cThr3e
— Petra Klepac (@petrakle) March 19, 2020
Delaying the Second Wave
The study, funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, National Institute for Health Research, Wellcome Trust and Health Data Research UK, aimed at finding how physical distancing measures affected the progression of COVID-19 in the Wuhan region.
The researchers report that extensive school closures and workplace shutdowns seems to have worked in China. The aggressive social distancing measures in China achieved their intended result: reduced number of coronavirus cases.
Officials happy with this progress are now extending social distancing measures till April, instead of March as previously planned. The study suggests this can help in holding off the second wave. The measures helped flatten the curve in time and gave time to health officials to make necessary preparations.
BREAKING: China will lift Wuhan lockdown at #coronavirus epicenter on April 8th. ~60 million have been locked down since Jan 23 in Hubei. Transportation will resume. This is after new official cases in Hubei dropped to zero days ago @quicktake #COVID19 https://t.co/j7ZzNeZfEC
— Selina Wang (@selinawangtv) March 24, 2020
Through mathematical modelling, the scientists created two scenarios. In the first one one social distancing the measures were extended and the second where the social distancing measures were relaxed. According to calculations, if the measures are relaxed in this month, a second wave of coronavirus cases will be seen by late August. However, if the measures are taken till April, the second wave will hit China in October. Delaying the lifting of restrictions till April meant that the reduced number of cases (median) will be more than 92% in mid-2020, and 24% in end-2020.
The researchers noted that this model was made according to variables in China and may not be applicable in other countries. Yang Liu, a scientist on the team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says:
Our results won’t look exactly the same in another country, because the population structure and the way people mix will be different.
However, they did suggest that physical distance is key here and will be useful in controlling the pandemic everywhere in the world. As people will return to their jobs and children will come back to schools, a second wave will probably be seen in every country. The team working on the project suggests that gradually lifting off restrictions everywhere in the world will flatten the curve and delay a second wave everywhere. This time can be used to build health care and testing capacity.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus strongly warns against lifting social distancing measures too soon.
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) March 25, 2020
China was the first country to implement social distancing measures in the current coronavirus pandemic. The level of the measures implemented was even called draconian and aggressive. The government imposed a lockdown in the city of Wuhan (the ground zero of the pandemic). The largest lockdown at the time to be implemented, it restricted movement of 11 million people in Wuhan and 57 million in 15 other cities.
This measure was at first criticized by western countries including Amnesty International but as the pandemic spread, many countries around the globe enacted similar measures. Now all eyes are on China to see if these measures worked. This study answers the question. Yes, social distancing is the best we can do for now.
The White House 15-day Pause
— US Strategic Command (@US_Stratcom) March 21, 2020
On Thursday, United States surpassed China and Italy in total number of reported cases of coronavirus. Right now, the diagnosed cases stand at 85,749 with 314 deaths across the country. The White House came up with a 15–day Plan strategy to deal with the coronavirus pandemic on March 16. The strategy suggests that everyone should put physical distancing in practice to keep the most at risk population safe. These suggested measures include:
- Following the advice of local and state authorities
- Practice good personal hygiene. Wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds. Sanitize with alcohol sanitizer, stop touching your face and disinfect surfaces
- Contacting your medical provider if you feel sick and avoiding going to work
- Contacting medical provider if any of your children are sick and keeping them at home
- If someone tests positive for coronavirus in the house, keeping everyone in the house from going out
- If someone is old, they should stay home and away from other people
- If someone has serious health condition like heart or lung disease, they should stay home and away from people
For public health officials, these 15 days will be dedicated to preparing for the future and capacity building of health care system and social networks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This involves:
- Identifying key officials and persons from different aspects of life and circles who will help implement coordinated efforts to control the virus
- Communicating with public and preparing them for a possible extension of social distancing measures
- Identification and capacity building of organizations working with people at risk
- Fill out critical gaps in resources and supply chain ofmedical equipment, food supply and disinfection products
- Build up childcare infrastructure for critical workforce like medical professionals, first responders, teachers and hospital administrators, utility staff and mental health professionals
- Planning out an orderly return to daily life after social distancing measures are lifted off
It is difficult to say where United States stands on right now on prolonging social distancing measures. This week President Donald Trump said that he wanted to lift off the social distancing measure in time for Easter of April 12. However, later in a media briefing he said that he will wait and listen to the advice of experts before taking any such decision.
Monday marks the end of the administration’s 15-day slow the spread initiative. President Trump has said he will then make a decision about how he wants the country to move forward.
@PaulaReidCBS has more from the White House. pic.twitter.com/p0ovQSwOdt
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 27, 2020
White House considering numerous options to loosen administration's 15-day guidelines on social distancing amid the coronavirus outbreak, including gradually scaling back restrictions based on age and location, sources say. https://t.co/ZsUZ7kjZZn
— ABC News (@ABC) March 24, 2020
Understanding Social Distancing
Social distancing is increasing physical distance among people to stop the spread of infection. It is a measure that is usually imposed on a population when health agencies and governments need time to ready the health care system for patients and meet the increased demand that results due to a pandemic.
When an infectious disease pandemic hits a region, especially with a fast-moving virus like coronavirus, the health care officials need time to build up their capacity, to meet this demand. While they prepare, social distancing measures can decrease the rate of infection spreading (flattening the curve) and limit the number of overall cases.
Social distancing measures can include isolation, quarantine, shelter in place orders, lockdowns, closing down schools, border closures, closing of community centers, and closing of workplaces except necessary services like food supply chain, health care system and administrative services. These measures can also include bans on crowds and limitation in number of people in a gathering.