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Countries across the world, including the U.S., are in various phases of reopening, but concerns of a so-called "second wave" of the coronavirus pandemic have cropped up. A new study suggests that intermittent lockdowns followed by periods of easing could be an "effective strategy for reducing the number of COVID-19-related deaths."
The research suggests a strategy of being on strict lockdown for 50 days, followed by a 30-day regimen of more relaxed social distancing could reduce the number of people each infected individual infects to 0.5 in all countries.
"Our models predict that dynamic cycles of 50-day suppression followed by a 30-day relaxation are effective at lowering the number of deaths significantly for all countries throughout the 18-month period," the study's lead author, Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, a global health epidemiologist the University of Cambridge, said in a statement.
Additionally, the authors noted this approach could keep the number of patients in ICU below the available capacity and not overwhelm the hospital system.
The pandemic would result in a longer event, "beyond 18 months in all countries," but the number of people who would die across the 16 countries modeled would be just over 130,000.
“This intermittent combination of strict social distancing, and a relatively relaxed period, with efficient testing, case isolation, contact tracing and shielding the vulnerable, may allow populations and their national economies to ‘breathe’ at intervals – a potential that might make this solution more sustainable, especially in resource-poor regions,” Chowdhury added.
To date, the pandemic, which started in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, has resulted in more than 323,000 global deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Of those, nearly 92,000 deaths have occurred in the U.S., the most affected country on the planet.
Two other scenarios were considered, including one where governments around the world take no measures. In this scenario, the pandemic would conclude in approximately six months, but 7.8 million deaths would occur in the 16 countries modeled.
A second scenario also looked at a 50-day lockdown and 30-day relaxed cycle, albeit one less strict than the aforementioned plan.
Under this structure, the pandemic would last "approximately 12 months in high-income countries" and 18 months or more in other countries. It would also result in more than 3.5 million deaths, while simultaneously overwhelming the ICU and critical care capacity in hospitals around the world.
The 16 countries that were included in the model are: Australia, Belgium, Chile, the Netherlands, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Mexico, Colombia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Afghanistan and Burkina Faso.
Despite the outcome of the study, the researchers conceded these rolling lockdowns may not be best suited for every country and is just one option to be considered by lawmakers and public health officials.
“There’s no simple answer to the question of which strategy to choose," University of Bern professor and one of the study's co-authors Oscar Franco added. "Countries – particularly low-income countries – will have to weigh up the dilemma of preventing COVID-19 related deaths and public health system failure with the long-term economic collapse and hardship.”
The research has been published in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
Earlier this week, data from the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appear to suggest that patients who test positive for COVID-19 after having previously recovered are not capable of transmitting the infection.
As of Wednesday morning, more than 4.91 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 1.53 million of which are in the U.S., the most impacted country on the planet.