China’s coronavirus lockdown may have prevented 700,000 deaths, scientists say

China’s coronavirus lockdown may have prevented 700,000 deaths from COVID-19, says an international team of researchers.The coronavirus first emerged in December in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Scientists believe that China’s travel ban and national lockdown within the first 50 days of the epidemic played a critical role in preventing its spread. China implemented a travel ban on Wuhan residents on Jan. 23.

The number of confirmed cases in China by day 50 (February 19) of the epidemic, was around 30,000,” said Christopher Dye, visiting professor of zoology and visiting fellow at the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, in a statement. “Our analysis suggests that without the Wuhan travel ban and the national emergency response there would have been more than 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases outside of Wuhan by that date. China’s control measures appear to have worked by successfully breaking the chain of transmission — preventing contact between infectious and susceptible people.”

Researchers analyzed case reports, human movement data and public health intervention information, according to a statement released by Penn State, which participated in the project. The movements of 4.3 million people out of Wuhan before the travel ban were analyzed, as well as the types and timing of control measures in cities across China and the daily numbers of COVID-19 cases reported in each city.

The research is published in the journal Science.

“One fascinating aspect of our work is that it shows the power of novel data streams such as cell phone mobility data,” said Ottar Bjornstad, distinguished professor of entomology and biology at Penn State, in the statement. “Since the time period we studied included the Spring Festival holiday and Chinese Lunar New Year, we were able to compare patterns of travel into and out of Wuhan during the outbreak with cell phone data from two previous spring festivals. The analysis revealed an extraordinary reduction in movement following the travel ban of January 23, 2020. Based on this data, we could also calculate the likely reduction in Wuhan-associated cases in other cities across China.”

Experts also said that the Wuhan lockdown delayed the arrival of COVID-19 in other Chinese cities for several days.

“This delay provided extra time to prepare for the arrival of COVID-19 in more than 130 cities,” said Huaiyu Tian, associate professor of epidemiology at Beijing Normal University, in the statement.

By banning public gatherings, closing entertainment venues and suspending public transport, the cities reported 33 percent fewer confirmed cases during the first week of their outbreaks than cities that did not implement a “Level 1 response,” the researchers said.

However, they warned that China still faces risks associated with coronavirus.

“Given the small fraction of the Chinese population that has been infected, a much larger number of people remains at risk of COVID-19,” Tian said. “We are acutely aware that resident or imported infections could lead to a resurgence of transmission.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, at least 911,308 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, at least 82,361 of which are in China. The disease has accounted for at least 45,497 deaths around the world, including at least 3,193 in China.

However, skepticism about China’s numbers has swirled throughout the crisis, fueled by official efforts to quash bad news in the early days and a general distrust of the government. Long lines of people waiting to collect the ashes of loved ones at funeral homes last week raised questions and revived the debate.

While scientists have not yet worked out how exactly how the novel coronavirus first infected people, there is evidence that it originated in bats, which spread to another animal, possibly a pangolin, at a “wet market” in Wuhan.

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