Europe is still in early stages of Covid-19 spread: Study
11 European countries affected by the pandemic, including Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom (UK), may have averted around 59,000 deaths with a range of 21,000 to 120,000 deaths till Tuesday due to these interventions, an analysis found.Updated: Mar 31, 2020 21:00 IST
A new analysis on the impact of various non-medical interventions to tackle the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) such as social distancing, school closure, lockdowns and prohibiting public events in Europe could give India a reason to comply strictly with similar interventions already in place here.
The analysis by Imperial College London and the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling among others published on Monday found that 11 European countries affected by the pandemic, including Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom (UK), may have averted around 59,000 deaths with a range of 21,000 to 120,000 deaths till Tuesday due to these interventions.
But the study also estimates that only a fraction of the population in these countries have been infected as yet and that infections are likely to jump as soon as these curbs are lifted.
The models used by the authors also estimate that these countries have managed to reduce their reproductive number --the average number of new infections generated by each infected person by nearly 64% in some countries.
The results, however, are worrying because Italy has recorded 11,591 deaths and reported as many as 812 new fatalities in the past 24 hours.
But the study suggests despite mounting pressure on medical facilities in Italy, interventions have averted a “healthcare catastrophe” where the number of new deaths could have been 3.7 times higher in their absence.
“Our results suggest that interventions such as social distancing or lockdowns have already saved many lives and will continue to do so,” explained Professor Axel Gandy, Chair of Statistics, Department of Mathematics at Imperial College of London in a summary of the findings posted on the institution’s website. “The impact of the pandemic is extreme. But it would have been much worse without the interventions. Keeping interventions in place is crucial for controlling it,” he added.
The percentage of the population infected as of March 28 is only 0.72% in Germany; 2.7% in the UK; 9.8% in Italy and 15% in Spain, which is the highest among the 11 countries studied.
“Our estimates imply that the populations in Europe are not close to herd immunity. With reproduction number values dropping substantially, the rate of acquisition of herd immunity will slow down rapidly… this implies that the virus will be able to spread rapidly should interventions be lifted,” the analysis has flagged, adding that infection rates should be validated by antibody tests.
“The study shows that non-pharmaceutical interventions can reduce both death and infection transmission rates. But at the same time, it shows that the population infected so far is very low. So there is no herd immunity yet. The findings are important because there are no pharmaceutical interventions for this disease yet such as a vaccine or medicine. We have to use non-medical interventions in a bid not to overwhelm our healthcare systems. I hope these interventions will also give us time to come up with pharmaceutical solutions,” said Dr Shobha Broor, former head of microbiology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
The Imperial College team used real-time daily data from the European Centre of Disease Control (ECDC) on the number of deaths in 11 European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK and modelled them to arrive at the conclusions. The modelled number of infections was derived by the serial interval distribution -- the average time from infection of one person to the time at which they infect another -- according to the authors.