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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Explained: How effective are social distancing measures in curbing spread of Covid-19?

A study has found that nations with national social distancing policies recorded a larger decrease in their Covid-19 spread rate than those with regional social distancing policies.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: August 5, 2020 9:47:08 am
Social distancing markers are seen on a bench due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Cologne-Bonn Airport in Cologne. (File Photo/Reuters)

Social distancing is among the key precautionary measures to protect against and stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. In a study published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science, researchers have tried to quantify the efficacy of social distancing measures by analysing the spread of Covid-19 in 134 nations which have varying policies on social distancing. The study was published on July 30.

What does the study say?

The researchers attempted to quantify the effects of social distancing measures on curbing the spread of Covid-19. They found that such measures “significantly reduced spreading rates compared to time-matched intervals in nations that did not implement social distancing policies.”

For instance, the researchers found that as a result of social-distancing policies, the prevention of mortality in the US could save $8 trillion nationally, or $60,000 per household. In the US, where it was up to states to implement social distancing measures, researchers found that the smallest reductions in the spread of Covid-19 were observed in Nebraska and Wyoming, the two states without any social distancing measures.

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Out of the 134 nations analysed by the researchers, 74 did not have any social distancing policies, 14 nations had regional social distancing policies and 46 nations implemented a national social distancing policy.

They found that those nations with social distancing policies recorded a larger decrease in their Covid-19 spread rate than those with regional social distancing policies. There were no significant differences found in countries with regional policies and those without any social distancing policies. Also, the study showed that testing rates and the change in testing rates observed in pre-social distancing time periods showed no difference between countries with and without social distancing policies.

Essentially, in 46 nations that implemented social distancing measures, researchers claim that the policy led to a reduction in Covid-19 cases by over 65 per cent, or prevented an estimated 1.57 million cases. The 46 countries with national social distancing measures considered for the analysis include Australia, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, UAE and the UK.

Countries with regional social distancing policies include Canada, Finland, Japan, Russia and the US.

Also in Explained: Why so many vaccines are being developed

What are the limitations of this study?

Since researchers relied on direct Covid-19 testing for their analysis, it is possible that they underestimated the prevalence of the disease. Further, while various factors such as climate, population density, healthcare infrastructure, testing rates and population characteristics determine the spread of Covid-19, this study focussed on the change in transmission as a result of social distancing policies only.

What are the social distancing measures currently in place in India?

While India was not included in this analysis, it has a nation-wide implementation of social distancing, with state governments actively enforcing the policy. As per the Unlock-3 guidelines, the Ministry of Home Affairs has removed restrictions on the movement of individuals during the night and has allowed yoga institutions and gymnasiums to open from August 5. Within the perimeters of containment zones, strict social distancing and other norms of containing the spread of the virus shall be maintained and only essential activities will be allowed, MHA has said.

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