Coronavirus: Study suggests strict social distancing measures should last weeks beyond peak infection

Scientific model recommends restrictions in Wuhan remain to avoid an earlier secondary peak in cases

People wearing face masks walk at a riverside park in Wuhan of Hubei province, the epicentre of China's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer  CHINA OUT.
Powered by automated translation

The strict social distancing measures enforced in Wuhan have worked to control the outbreak of coronavirus and take pressure off healthcare systems, new research has found.

A study published in the Lancet Public Health journal on Thursday said the lockdown in the city where the outbreak began reduced the number of new cases.

The draconian measures taken in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province included closing schools and businesses from January 23.

Authorities in Hubei have begun lifting tight travel restrictions in parts of the province after China reported fewer new cases of Covid-19.

Wuhan is due to have its own lockdown partially lifted on April 8 for residents who are healthy.

The study was compiled using data on the population of Wuhan and the number of reported coronavirus cases in the city to create a mathematical model.

Using the model, researchers compared two simulated scenarios: theoretical no intervention; banning holiday travel but not enforcing social distancing; with the strict social measures carried out by authorities in the city.

Authors of the study have recommended keeping the restrictions in Wuhan in place until April and to only gradually lift the social distancing measures to prevent a surge in cases half way through the year.

"The unprecedented measures the city of Wuhan has put in place to reduce social contacts in school and the workplace have helped to control the outbreak," said lead author Kiesha Prem from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"However, the city now needs to be really careful to avoid prematurely lifting physical distancing measures, because that could lead to an earlier secondary peak in cases. But if they relax the restrictions gradually, this is likely to both delay and flatten the peak."

The researchers found that if the measures were kept fully in place until April, the medium number of infections would be reduced by 92 per cent in mid-2020 and 24 per cent at the end of 2020.

Delaying and flattening a second peak of the virus from August to October would give the health system more time to prepare.