Coronavirus Measures May Have Already Averted Up to 120,000 Deaths Across Europe

Modelling the Impact
In the latest report, researchers aimed to model the likely impact of interventions in place on reducing loss of life. The team used real-time daily data from the European Centre of Disease Control (ECDC) on the number of deaths in 11 European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The models focused on reproductive number – the average number of new infections generated by each infected person. It was assumed that changes in reproductive number are an immediate response to these interventions being implemented, rather than broader gradual changes in behavior. Overall, the models estimate that countries have managed to reduce their reproductive number.

The team’s analysis shows that with the current interventions remaining in place, that measures across all 11 countries will have averted between 21,000 and 120,000 deaths up to 31 March. They add that many more deaths will be averted by keeping interventions in place until transmission drops to low levels.

Our results suggest that interventions such as social distancing or lockdowns have already saved many lives and will continue to save lives,” explained Professor Axel Gandy, Chair of Statistics within the Department of Mathematics. “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.”

In addition to reducing deaths, the latest report estimates that between 7 and 43 million people have been infected with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) across all 11 countries up to 28th March, representing between 1.88 percent and 11.43 percent of the population.   

Given the lag of 2-3 weeks between when transmission changes occur and when their impact can be observed in trends in deaths, it may still be too early to show for most of the 11 countries that recent interventions have been effective.

The researchers stress that the results are strongly driven by the data from countries with more advanced epidemics, and earlier interventions. It is critical, they explain, that the current social distancing measures remain in place, and trends in cases and deaths are closely monitored in the coming days and weeks to provide reassurance that transmission of the virus is slowing.

Professor Christl Donnelly, Professor of Statistical Epidemiology within the School of Public Health, said: “Europeans, like many people elsewhere, have changed their lives profoundly in recent weeks.  This report makes clear early evidence of the benefits of these social distancing measures.  By keeping our distance from each other, we limit the opportunities for the virus to spread and reduce the risks of illness and even death among those around us.”

Professor Neil Ferguson, Director of J-IDEA at Imperial, added: “This analysis show that the interventions European countries have put in place have significantly slowed the spread of COVID-19. However, it is not yet clear whether or how quickly these measures will cause the numbers of new cases to decline. Data collected in the next two weeks will be crucial to refining our assessment of this key point.”

Report author Dr Swapnil Mishra, a Research Associate within the School of Public Health, said: “We implement a novel scientific model of the epidemic within a robust statistical framework. It is a fully Bayesian analysis, so we do not just look at a single scenario, but rather thousands of plausible scenarios and counterfactuals. Our analysis suggests in these difficult times interventions are required and necessary to keep the pandemic in control.”

The full report ‘Estimating the number of infections and the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in 11 European countries’ is available on the MRC GIDA report website.

Ryan O’Hare is Research Media Officer (Medicine) at Imperial College London. Dr. Sabine L. Van Elsland is External Relationships & Communications Manager at Imperial College London. This article, published courtesy of Imperial College London, is adapted from a press release from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, and is published courtesy of Imperial College London.