Report 13: Imperial College31 Mar, 2020
Estimating the number of infections and the impact of nonpharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19 in 11 European countries
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Following the emergence of a novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and its spread outside of China, Europe is now experiencing large epidemics. In response, many European countries have implemented unprecedented non-pharmaceutical interventions including case isolation, the closure of schools and universities, banning of mass gatherings and/or public events, and most recently, widescale social distancing including local and national lockdowns.
In this report, we use a semi-mechanistic Bayesian hierarchical model to attempt to infer the impact of these interventions across 11 European countries. Our methods assume that changes in the reproductive number – a measure of transmission - are an immediate response to these interventions being implemented rather than broader gradual changes in behaviour. Our model estimates these changes by calculating backwards from the deaths observed over time to estimate transmission that occurred several weeks prior, allowing for the time lag between infection and death.
One of the key assumptions of the model is that each intervention has the same effect on the reproduction number across countries and over time. This allows us to leverage a greater amount of data across Europe to estimate these effects. It also means that our results are driven strongly by the data from countries with more advanced epidemics, and earlier interventions, such as Italy and Spain. We find that the slowing growth in daily reported deaths in Italy is consistent with a significant impact of interventions implemented several weeks earlier. In Italy, we estimate that the effective reproduction number, Rt, dropped to close to 1 around the time of lockdown (11th March), although with a high level of uncertainty.
Overall, we estimate that countries have managed to reduce their reproduction number. Our estimates have wide credible intervals and contain 1 for countries that have implemented all interventions considered in our analysis. This means that the reproduction number may be above or below this value. With current interventions remaining in place to at least the end of March, we estimate that interventions across all 11 countries will have averted 59,000 deaths up to 31 March [95% credible interval 21,000-120,000]. Many more deaths will be averted through ensuring that interventions remain in place until transmission drops to low levels. We estimate that, across all 11 countries between 7 and 43 million individuals have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 up to 28th March, representing between 1.88% and 11.43% of the population. The proportion of the population infected 30 March 2020 Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team DOI: Page 2 of 35 to date – the attack rate - is estimated to be highest in Spain followed by Italy and lowest in Germany and Norway, reflecting the relative stages of the epidemics.
Given the lag of 2-3 weeks between when transmission changes occur and when their impact can be observed in trends in mortality, for most of the countries considered here it remains too early to be certain that recent interventions have been effective. If interventions in countries at earlier stages of their epidemic, such as Germany or the UK, are more or less effective than they were in the countries with advanced epidemics, on which our estimates are largely based, or if interventions have improved or worsened over time, then our estimates of the reproduction number and deaths averted would change accordingly. It is therefore critical that the current interventions remain in place and trends in cases and deaths are closely monitored in the coming days and weeks to provide reassurance that transmission of SARS-Cov-2 is slowing.