COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns prevented over 500 million coronavirus infections, according to researchers

Two recent studies indicate that lockdowns enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic helped to significantly reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

According to a recent study published in Nature, a scientific journal, lockdown orders implemented nationwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic prevented approximately 60 million people from contracting the virus.

A separate study conducted by epidemiologists at Imperial College London says that pandemic shutdowns in 11 European countries averted roughly 3.1 million deaths from the coronavirus.

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These shutdowns, which involved closing various businesses and implementing social distance guidelines, dropped infection rates by an average of 82 percent. Authors of the study say the measures were sufficient in lowering the COVID-19 infection rate to more stable levels. 

The studies analyzed policies aimed at containing the spread of the virus, including travel restrictions, business and school closures, shelter-in-place orders and other non-pharmaceutical interventions.

“Our results suggest that ongoing anti-contagion policies have already substantially reduced the number of COVID-19 infections observed in the world today,” the researchers wrote. “Based on these results, we find that the deployment of anti-contagion policies in all six countries significantly and substantially slowed the pandemic.”

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While these shutdowns resulted in devastating impacts to the world economy, with the unemployment rate in the U.S. sinking to a level seen since the Great Depression, researchers say ongoing anti-contagion policies prevented a near disaster scenario.

“If we hadn’t shut things down, there would have been roughly 500 million more infections,” said Solomon Hsiang, director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley.

“The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity’s greatest collective achievements,” Hsiang said. “I don’t think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time. There have been huge personal costs to staying home and canceling events, but the data show that each day made a profound difference. By using science and cooperating, we changed the course of history.”

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According to data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of June 8, there are nearly 2 million people in the United States who have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 7 million who tested positive globally. More than 400,000 have died across the world, according to Johns Hopkins’ data.