Doctors give treatment to a COVID-19 patient in critical condition in Wuhan, Hubei Province. (Photo: Global Times)
Over 1.4 million infections and 56,000 deaths may have been avoided as a result of the national and provincial public health measures imposed in late January in China, and these measures effectively contained the novel coronavirus spread in the country by mid-February, according to a research paper by Chinese and American scholars to be published in the Journal of Population Economics.
The paper, titled Impacts of Social and Economic Factors on the Transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in China, was completed by Shi Wei and Qiu Yun, both professors at the Institute for Economic and Social Research of the Jinan University of China, and Chen Xi, a Professor at Yale University & President of the China Health Policy and Management Society.
The paper models the local and cross-city transmissions of the novel coronavirus in China between January 19 and February 29, and examines the role played by various socioeconomic mediating factors, including public health measures encouraging social distancing in local communities, according to the paper.
It found that stringent quarantine, city lockdown, and local public health measures imposed since late January significantly decreased the virus transmission rate, and that the virus spread was contained by the middle of February in China.
The paper quantified the effects of different public health measures in reducing the number of infections through counterfactual analyses, and said that over 1.4 million infections and 56,000 deaths may have been avoided as a result of the national and provincial public health measures imposed in late January in China.
The paper adds to the epidemiological studies on the basic reproduction number (R0) of COVID-19, and the results showed that one COVID-19 case led to around three more cases at the end of January, and from February 2 to 29, which was after Wuhan was put under lockdown on January 23, this figure was reduced to 1.2, and 0.6 if cities in Hubei were excluded, suggesting that public health measures and people's behavior may play an important role in containing the transmission of COVID-19, according to the paper.
Globally, two fundamental strategies have been taken, with one focusing on mitigating but not necessarily stopping the virus spread, and the other relying on more stringent measures to suppress and reverse the growth trajectories.
While most Western countries started with an implementation of the former strategy, more and more of them (including most European countries and the US) are shifting toward a more stringent suppression strategy that countries such as China, Singapore and South Korea have adopted from the beginning, according to the paper.
Examining the influencing factors of the transmission of COVID-19 and effectiveness of the large-scale mandatory quarantine and social distancing measures in China not only adds to our understanding of the containment of COVID-19 but also provides insights into future prevention work against similar infectious diseases, the paper said.
A study published last week by Science magazine suggested stringent controls in the first 50 days of the epidemic gave other cities across China valuable time to prepare and introduce their own measures, and without the Wuhan travel ban or the national emergency response, there would have been 744,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside Wuhan by February 19, according to the paper by researchers in China, the US and the UK.