Lockdowns and other coronavirus restrictions averted 60 million coronavirus infections across the US — and more than 500 million across the world, according to a new study.
The study — conducted by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and published Monday in the journal Nature — examined 1,717 policies implemented in the US, China, France, Iran, Italy and South Korea after the virus emerged until April 6, Berkeley News reported.
The researchers found the emergency measures — travel restrictions, business and school closings, shelter-in-place orders and other rules — “significantly and substantially slowed” the spread of the virus.
The study found that the six countries managed to avoid 62 million confirmed cases, including 4.8 million in the United States, by implementing the emergency measures.
But many infections are undetected during asymptomatic spread, so the researchers estimated that lockdown orders actually prevented about 530 million infections in those countries, including about 60 million in the US.
Instead, COVID-19 cases in the US are nearing 2 million, and at least 110,514 people have died of the virus, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
“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,” said Solomon Hsiang, director of Berkeley’s Global Policy Laboratory and Chancellor’s Professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy.
“I don’t think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time,” the study’s lead author added. “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.”
Hsiang performed the research — the first peer-reviewed analysis of local, regional and national policies — with an international team at the Global Policy Laboratory, all working under lockdown restrictions.
They also found that China’s policies prevented about 37 million more confirmed cases, corresponding to 285 million total cases, and South Korea’s restrictions averted 11.5 million confirmed cases and 38 million total cases.
According to the study, infections were growing 38 percent per day on average — doubling about every two days in each country — before emergency policies slowed the spread of the outbreak.
Global cases of the coronavirus are nearing 7 million, with just over 400,000 dead, but the study suggests that the numbers would have been vastly higher without policy interventions.
“It’s as if the roof was about to fall in, but we caught it before it crushed everyone. It was difficult and exhausting, and we are still holding it up. But by coming together, we did something as a society that nobody could have done alone and which has never been done before,” Hsiang said.
The researchers — who came from the US, China, France, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea — found that home isolation, business closings and lockdowns often produced the clearest benefits.
Travel restrictions and bans on gatherings had mixed results, with large effects in some countries, such as Iran and Italy, but less clear benefits in other countries, including the US, according to the study.
The study did not find strong evidence that school closings had an impact in any country, but the researchers cautioned that their findings are not conclusive.