Extending school closings and work activity in Wuhan, the Chinese province most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, to April, instead of March, could delay the appearance of a second wave later this year.
This is clear from a study published this Wednesday in The Lancet Public Health, in which experts say that this measure would help to alleviate the pressure on the health system more.
Wuhan, where the coronavirus pandemic (technically known as SARS-CoV-2) began, closed schools and ordered the cessation of the vast majority of their work activity in mid-January, which, according to experts, has managed to reduce significantly the number of infections.
Using mathematical models to simulate the impact of extending or relaxing current school and workplace closings, the researchers estimated that lifting control measures in March, as planned, may spark a second wave of cases in late August.
Conversely, maintaining the restrictions until April will likely delay the appearance of a second peak to October, which would allow the health system to prepare during the intervening months.
Experts cautioned, however, that it is difficult to estimate the true impact of relaxing physical distance measurements, due to the lack of precision in estimates of the number of reproduction (how many people an individual is likely to infect with the virus) and how long is being infected on average.
Kiesha Prem, a doctor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the author of the research, noted that “unprecedented” measures in place in Wuhan “have helped control the outbreak,” but argued that her authorities should be cautious in returning to normal.
“The city must now be very careful to avoid prematurely lifting the physical distancing measures, because that could precipitate a secondary peak of cases. Instead, if the restrictions are gradually relaxed, this is likely to be delayed and the peak crushed” he indicated.
To obtain information on the spread of COVID-19 in Wuhan and the rest of China, experts analyzed data on the number of contacts per day and by age group at school and work and compared three scenarios.
The first without interventions or vacations (a hypothetical case); the second without physical distance measures and with school vacations; and the third with strict control measures that imply the closing of schools and only around 10% of the active workforce (health personnel, police …).
The analysis found that physical distancing measures are likely to be more effective if the staggered return to work begins in early April.
In this way, according to the researchers, it could reduce the average number of new infections by 24% until the end of the year and delay a second appearance of the outbreak until October.
Yang Liu, co-author of the study and doctor of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, indicated that the results will not be “exactly the same” in other countries, because the structure of the population and the way of relating is different, but highlighted a common feature.
“We believe that one thing applies everywhere: physical distancing measures are very helpful and we need to carefully measure their lift to avoid subsequent waves of infection when workers and schoolchildren return to their normal routine. If those waves arrive too quickly they could overwhelm to health systems ”, he argued.