Lifting restrictions could lead to resurgence of COVID-19

A summary of research published in the European Respiratory Journal

A new study has found that the spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase again if social distancing and restrictive measures are lifted too soon.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have put restrictions on social contact and normal activities to try and stop the virus spreading. This study looked at the impact these measures have had and how the virus might spread if restrictions are eased.

What did the study look at?

The study uses a statistical model to estimate how the disease might spread. This model uses the data that are currently available to predict the future path a disease may take.

In this study, the researchers collected information from 89 countries on the number of new cases of COVID-19 and deaths each day up until 21 May 2020. They used this information to estimate the rate of infection before and during the restrictive measures. They then predicted what may happen in the future as these measures are eased.

What do the results show?

The model predicted that lifting restrictive measures is likely to increase the spread of COVID-19. It estimated that the current restrictions on behaviour have only just kept the rate of infection at a manageable level. The estimates suggest that if we go back to just 20% of the contact we had with other people before restrictions were introduced, this could restart the spread of the disease.

Why is this important?

This study suggests that the restrictive measures have worked at slowing the spread of the disease. However, the results also predict that if these measures are eased too quickly, it is likely to lead to an increase in cases of COVID-19 in many countries.

These estimates suggest that until a vaccine is developed, there should continue to be very limited contact between people. The authors advise that governments should consider these findings when they are planning how to balance a return to normal life while ensuring the virus remains contained. They are eager for us to understand perhaps we need a new normal. One that will mean measures like desks in offices being further apart, queuing further apart, potentially wearing masks while in shops and keeping your distance wherever possible.

Read the original research paper

Title: Estimates of the ongoing need for social distancing and control measures post-“lockdown” from trajectories of COVID-19 cases and mortality