Non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in Europe


Following the emergence of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and its spread outside of China, Europe has experienced large epidemics. In response, many European countries have implemented unprecedented non-pharmaceutical interventions such as closure of schools and national lockdowns.

Our researchers have studied the impact of major interventions across 11 European countries for the period from the start of COVID-19 until the 4th of May 2020 when lockdowns started to be lifted.

Their model calculates backwards from observed deaths to estimate transmission that occurred several weeks prior, allowing for the time lag between infection and death. They estimate that, across all 11 countries, between 12 and 15 million individuals have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 up to 4th May, representing between 3.2% and 4.0% of the population.

They further estimated 3.2 million people would have died by 4 May if not for measures such as closing businesses and telling people to stay at home.

That meant lockdown saved around 3.1 million lives, including 470,000 in the UK, 690,000 in France and 630,000 in Italy.

Dr Seth Flaxman, Senior Lecturer in Statistical Machine Learning at Imperial College London told BBC News “Lockdown averted millions of deaths, those deaths would have been a tragedy.” He also added “Claims this is all over can be firmly rejected. We are only at the beginning of this pandemic.”

Their results show that major non-pharmaceutical interventions and lockdown in particular have had a large effect on reducing transmission. Continued intervention needs to be considered to keep transmission of SARS-CoV-2 under control.

This study was supported by NIHR Imperial BRC.