Imperial College London Research Study Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand
By Neil M Ferguson, Daniel Laydon, Gemma Nedjati-Gilani, Natsuko Imai, Kylie Ainslie, Marc Baguelin, Sangeeta Bhatia, Adhiratha Boonyasiri, Zulma Cucunubá, Gina Cuomo-Dannenburg, Amy Dighe, Ilaria Dorigatti, Han Fu, Katy Gaythorpe, Will Green, Arran Hamlet, Wes Hinsley, Lucy C Okell, Sabine van Elsland, Hayley Thompson, Robert Verity, Erik Volz, Haowei Wang, Yuanrong Wang, Patrick GT Walker, Caroline Walters, Peter Winskill, Charles Whittaker, Christl A Donnelly, Steven Riley, Azra C Ghani.
On behalf of the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics Imperial College London Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Summary Report 12
The world faces a severe and acute public health emergency due to the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. How individual countries respond in the coming weeks will be critical in influencing the trajectory of national epidemics. Here we combine data on age-specific contact patterns and COVID-19 severity to project the health impact of the pandemic in 202 countries. We compare predicted mortality impacts in the absence of interventions or spontaneous social distancing with what might be achieved with policies aimed at mitigating or suppressing transmission. Our estimates of mortality and healthcare demand are based on data from China and high-income countries; differences in underlying health conditions and healthcare system capacity will likely result in different patterns in low income settings.
We estimate that in the absence of interventions, COVID-19 would have resulted in 7.0 billion infections and 40 million deaths globally this year. Mitigation strategies focussing on shielding the elderly (60% reduction in social contacts) and slowing but not interrupting transmission (40% reduction in social contacts for wider population) could reduce this burden by half, saving 20 million lives, but we predict that even in this scenario, health systems in all countries will be quickly overwhelmed. This effect is likely to be most severe in lower income settings where capacity is lowest: our mitigated scenarios lead to peak demand for critical care beds in a typical low-income setting outstripping supply by a factor of 25, in contrast to a typical high-income setting where this factor is 7. As a result, we anticipate that the true burden in low income settings pursuing mitigation strategies could be substantially higher than reflected in these estimates.
Our analysis therefore suggests that healthcare demand can only be kept within manageable levels through the rapid adoption of public health measures (including testing and isolation of cases and wider social distancing measures) to suppress transmission, similar to those being adopted in many countries at the current time. If a suppression strategy is implemented early (at 0.2 deaths per 100,000 population per week) and sustained, then 38.7 million lives could be saved whilst if it is initiated when death numbers are higher (1.6 deaths per 100,000 population per week) then 30.7 million lives could be saved. Delays in implementing strategies to suppress transmission will lead to worse outcomes and fewer lives saved.
We do not consider the wider social and economic costs of suppression, which will be high and may be disproportionately so in lower income settings. Moreover, suppression strategies will need to be maintained in some manner until vaccines or effective treatments become available to avoid the risk of later epidemics. Our analysis highlights the challenging decisions faced by all governments in the coming weeks and months, but demonstrates the extent to which rapid, decisive and collective action now could save millions of lives.
Appendix data sources
Data on global unmitigated, mitigated and suppression scenarios:
The global impact of COVID-19 has been profound, and the public health threat it represents is the most serious seen in a respiratory virus since the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Here we present the results of epidemiological modelling which has informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in recent weeks. In the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine, we assess the potential role of a number of public health measures – so-called non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) – aimed at reducing contact rates in the population and thereby reducing transmission of the virus. In the results presented here, we apply a previously published microsimulation model to two countries: the UK (Great Britain specifically) and the US.
We conclude that the effectiveness of any one intervention in isolation is likely to be limited, requiring multiple interventions to be combined to have a substantial impact on transmission. Two fundamental strategies are possible: (a) mitigation, which focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread – reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection, and (b) suppression, which aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely.
Each policy has major challenges. We find that that optimal mitigation policies (combining home isolation of suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease) might reduce peak healthcare demand by 2/3 and deaths by half. However, the resulting mitigated epidemic would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over. For countries able to achieve it, this leaves suppression as the preferred policy option.
We show that in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members. This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures, though it should be recognised that such closures may have negative impacts on health systems due to increased 16 March 2020 Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team DOI: https://doi.org/10.25561/77482 Page 2 of 20 absenteeism.
The major challenge of suppression is that this type of intensive intervention package – or something equivalently effective at reducing transmission – will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more) – given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed. We show that intermittent social distancing – triggered by trends in disease surveillance – may allow interventions to be relaxed temporarily in relative short time windows, but measures will need to be reintroduced if or when case numbers rebound.
Last, while experience in China and now South Korea show that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced.