The study was carried out by the population mapping group WorlPop from Southampton, who used sophisticated models to simulate different outbreak scenarios in Chinese cities, based on human movement and illness onset. The study suggests that speed of intervention is everything in preventing the contagion from spreading. If China had introduced testing, isolation and travel bans just one week earlier, then infection rates could have been reduced by 66 percent.
Conversely, the study found that had Beijing delayed implementing its coronavirus response by one, two or three weeks, then the number of cases could have rocketed three, seven and 18-fold respectively.
Professor Andrew Tatem told the Guardian: “From a purely scientific standpoint, putting in place a combination of interventions as early as possible is the best way to slow spread and reduce outbreak size.”
He added: “Of the three types of intervention we looked at, the early detection and isolation of cases likely had the strongest impact, and this is something that seems to have been in place early and been done effectively in the UK compared to other countries, such as the US.
“The other two types of interventions, social distancing and travel restrictions, I think do need to be looked at seriously in the coming days.”
The research also found that isolating the infected and preventing large social gatherings was expected to be far more effective in containing the virus than travel restrictions.
The study has yet to be peer reviewed and does not factor in political considerations, such as weighing up the restrictions against the social and economic damages and disruption such robust measures can have.
Rowland Kao, professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at Edinburgh University, said interpreting the results for the UK should be done with caution.
“The results themselves should not be interpreted as being universal.
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“They will of course depend on the individual circumstances of each country or region, where the controls are put in place.”
However, Mark Woodhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University, said the results were encouraging, because they indicated that a COVID-19 epidemic could be controlled.
This comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on Wednesday.
The coronavirus, unknown to to the world just three months ago, has now infected more than 121,000 people from Asia to the Middle East, Europe and the United States.
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Globally, the virus has claimed the lives of over 4,000 peoples, as it shows no sign of abating.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the infection and death rates were likely to increase rapidly over the coming weeks
He told journalists at a press conference in Geneva: “In the past two weeks the number of cases outside China has increased thirteen fold and the number of affected countries has tripled.
“In the days and weeks ahead, we expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries to climb even higher.”
While acknowledging that several countries had been able to suppress and control the contagion, Dr. Ghebreyesus criticised other world leaders for complacency and a lack of resolve in fighting the spread of COVID-19.
He said: “We’re deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
He continued: “We can not say this loudly enough or clearly enough or often enough: All countries can still change the course of this pandemic.
“Some countries are struggling with a lack of capacity. Some countries are struggling with a lack of resources.
“Some countries are struggling with a lack of resolve.”
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