Earlier this week we shared a story about a new study detailing how Europe’s rapid lockdowns helped prevent millions of deaths. Zooming out of Europe, an even bigger study now shows us just how necessary and effective global shutdowns were and still are in saving lives.
The new study, published in the journal Nature, found that shutdowns of industry and schools stopped 530 million new COVID-19 cases in just six countries: China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France and the U.S.
Of the 530 million, shutdowns prevented 60 million cases in the US, a number which would have overwhelmed health care providers. Other estimates included 38 million more total infections in South Korea and 49 million more total infections in Italy.
To reach this estimate, researchers used an economic method in which they calculated the magnitude of the effect of each policy aimed at curbing the virus. They also used infection rate statistics from influenza outbreaks to help in their estimations.
The study period in question ended April 6, meaning many more lives were likely saved after this timeframe. UC Berkeley professor and author of the study, Solomon Hsiang, says “The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity’s greatest collective achievements.” He believes that despite the difficulties, both economic and personal, no other human endeavor has saved so many lives in such a short period of time.
Although this news is positive, it’s important to remember that we are still very far from herd immunity and that, if precautions are abandoned too quickly, the potential for a significant second wave of the virus is highly likely. And while the number of saved lives is higher, even quicker lockdowns would have prevented even more deaths in the, especially in the US.
Nonetheless, this evidence demonstrates that our actions were not in vain and that the collective measures taken to flatten the virus’ curve did indeed save the lives of millions of our fellow human beings.