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Studies determine shutdown saved millions

Two separate research studies determined that shutdown orders prevented about 60 million coronavirus infections in the United States and saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries.

The reports were published in June in the journal Nature. They used completely different methods to reach similar conclusions: Shutdowns were effective at halting the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Without these policies employed, we would have lived through a very different April and May,” said Solomon Hsiang, director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. Hsiang led the research team that surveyed how China, the United States, France, Italy, Iran and South Korea responded to the pandemic.

Samir Bhatt, senior author of the study from Imperial College London, said the risk is far from over. “This is just the beginning of the epidemic,” Bhatt said. “The risk of a second wave happening if all interventions and precautions are abandoned is very real.”

The Berkeley study noted that because most people who are infected do not get tested, the actual number of prevented infections is much higher, approximately 530 million in the six countries studied, the researchers estimated.

The Berkeley researchers noted that the costs of the shutdowns — closed stores, job losses, empty streets, supply shortages — are obvious, while the benefits are not, because they involve “infections that never occurred and deaths that did not happen.”

Perhaps the most intriguing finding was that school closures did not have a significant effect, although the authors suggested that merits further study. Banning large gatherings had a much greater impact, and more of an effect in Italy and Iran than the other countries studied.

The Imperial College London study estimated that, across the 11 countries studied, between 3.2% and 4.0% of the population, representing 12 to 15 million people, have been infected, and the results “show that major non-pharmaceutical interventions and lockdowns in particular have had a large effect on reducing transmission.”

The study’s summary concludes by stating, “Continued intervention should be considered to keep transmission of SARS-CoV-2 under control.”

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