Closing nonessential businesses and schools and restricting borders are among the most effective measures that governments can impose to reduce the rate of Covid-19 transmission, a new study finds, showing the effectiveness of strict measures, but the research also points to less intrusive alternatives as governors across the country re-impose restrictions amid a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases.
People wear face masks outside Nom Wah Tea Parlor restaurant in Chinatown on November 15, 2020 in … [+]
The study, which was conducted by researchers in Vienna and Paris and published Monday in the journal Nature Human Behavior, looked at the effect that more than 6,000 non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI) measures implemented by governments in 79 territories had on the rate of Covid-19 transmission.
The researchers found that the most effective measures at reducing the rate of transmission, in order of effectiveness, are “small gathering cancellations” (such as closing non-essential businesses, restricting small gatherings and imposing mandatory work-from-home policies), closing educational institutions, border restrictions, increasing the availability of personal protective equipment and “individual movement restrictions” like curfews or stay-at-home orders.
Among the least effective measures are environmental measures like requiring surfaces to be cleaned, health checks at airports and borders and governments receiving international help.
The study acknowledges that strict measures like closing businesses and imposing stay-at-home restrictions can also have “adverse consequences,” and suggests some less restrictive measures can be effective alternatives, like information campaigns that urge people to voluntarily stay home and social distance, or government programs that help vulnerable populations by providing food, access to testing and assistance that “allow[s] them to self-isolate without fear of losing their job or part of their salary.”
“No one-size-fits-all solution exists” to completely reduce transmission, the study notes, and until a vaccine or effective treatment exists, Covid-19 outbreaks “can be stopped only by a suitable combination of NPIs, each tailored to the specific country and its epidemic age.”
“The most effective measures include closing and restricting most places where people gather in smaller or larger numbers for extended periods of time (businesses, bars, schools and so on). However, we also find several highly effective measures that are less intrusive,” the study notes. “We strongly recommend that governments and other stakeholders first consider the adoption of [the less intrusive] NPIs, tailored to the local context, should infection numbers surge (or surge a second time), before choosing the most intrusive options.”
The new study is in line with previous research showing the link between government restrictions and the rate of Covid-19 transmission, and shutdown measures have consistently shown to be effective at reducing or preventing Covid-19 transmission throughout the pandemic. The study’s publication comes as multiple European countries have imposed new lockdown measures in response to a second wave of Covid-19 cases, and governors across the U.S. contend with imposing new restrictions as cases reach record levels nationwide. Governors in Michigan, Washington, New Jersey and California have announced new restrictions since Sunday alone, along with local officials in Philadelphia, and additional measures are likely to continue to be imposed as the virus surges in nearly every state.
Ranking the effectiveness of worldwide COVID-19 government interventions (Nature Human Behavior)