A research team at Imperial College London estimates that COVID-19 measures averted over 3 million deaths in 11 European countries from March to May.
Published in the journal ‘Nature’, the study assessed the impact of restrictions in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The team used data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on the recorded deaths in the 11 countries. By early May, about 130 000 people had died from coronavirus.
What if the lockdowns never happened?
The researchers used a disease modelling technique to predict how many deaths there would have been if lockdown hadn’t taken place. They estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May if not for measures like social distancing and banning of large gatherings. France (690 000), Italy (630 000) and Germany (560 000) led in avoided deaths.
Study estimations indicate that up to 15 million people across Europe had been infected by the beginning of May. As much as 4 % of the population in these countries had been infected.
In a news release, study author Dr Samir Bhatt from Imperial College London’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis commented: “This data suggests that without any interventions, such as lockdown and school closures, 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. Our analysis also suggests far more infections in these European countries than previously estimated. Careful consideration should now be given to the continued measures that are needed to keep SARS-CoV-2 transmission under control.”
Millions of Europeans escape death
Lead author Seth Flaxman, senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London, noted: “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 and significantly reducing the number of people who would have been infected by the virus SARS-CoV-2.”
Findings show that major non-pharmaceutical interventions, especially lockdown measures, have had a major impact on lowering the transmission and spread of COVID-19 that has infected more than 8 million people and killed over 436 000 as of 16 June , according to ECDC data.
Non-pharmaceutical interventions to decrease COVID-19 transmission, including social distancing and lockdown measures, have helped lower transmission by about 81 %.
The authors acknowledge that one limitation of their model was that it assumes each measure had the same effect on all countries, whereas in reality it varied from country to country.
“We cannot say for certain that the current measures will continue to control the epidemic in Europe; however, if current trends continue, there is reason for optimism,” the authors concluded in the full study.