COVID-19: Are Distancing Measures Really Required?

COVID-19: Are Distancing Measures Really Required?

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What impact do contact restrictions have on COVID-19 spread?

Were the measures taken to restrict contact to protect against COVID-19 really necessary, or would weakened measures have led to a similar success? Researchers are now trying to answer this question.

The research group led by Jonas Dehning from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPIDS) analyzed the effect of the measures to limit contact on the spread of COVID 19 and published the results in the English-language journal "Science".

The consequences of the measures became apparent after two weeks

The consequences of the package of measures launched in March to combat COVID-19 were ascertainable in Germany with a two-week delay after each intervention, reports the research team. But only after the third intervention (a far-reaching ban on contact) did the cases of COVID-19 decrease significantly.

Was the full extent of the intervention really necessary?

"Our analysis clearly shows the effect of the different measures, which ultimately brought about a strong turnaround," emphasizes Viola Priesemann, research group leader at the MPIDS. in a press release on the research results. The model calculations make it clear that the entire package of measures was necessary to stop exponential growth in Germany.

Combined methods lead to more precise results

In the first few days of a pandemic in particular, reliable short-term forecasts of the effects of measures are of enormous importance for decision-makers or organizations, the researchers explain. If the reliability of such forecasts is initially questioned or if the number of cases is low, the so-called Bayesian modeling can help. For this purpose, the research group combined a calculation model for the transmission of infections with the Bayesian parameter inference. The effects of the packages of measures on the spread rate of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Germany should also be easier to estimate.

Changes always occurred two weeks after the intervention

In Germany there were three large packages of measures to combat COVID-19 in March. These began with the cancellation of major public events around March 8th. This was followed by the closure of educational institutions and many shops, as well as a far-reaching ban on contacts at the end of the month. Using data on COVID-19 cases up to April 21, the researchers were able to identify three points of change, each of which was detectable two weeks after an intervention and which reflect a slower spread of the virus.

When was there a significant decline in illnesses?

It was only with the third point of change, which was initiated by the ban on contacts, that a decisive decrease in the number of new cases occurring daily and the exponential growth was interrupted, reports the research team. Further model calculations also made it clear that delaying the measures by just five days would have had serious effects.

When can the restrictions be lifted?

The researchers explain that given the apparent two-week delay, it is important to consider lifting restrictions only when the number of active cases is so small that a two-week increase would not pose a serious threat to healthcare infrastructure .

“We have only recently seen the first effects of the easing on April 20 in the case numbers. And before we can assess the easing on May 11th, we also have to wait two to three weeks, ”explains Michael Wilczek, research group leader at MPIDS. Caution should therefore be exercised when lifting restrictions, the researchers warn. The delay also makes it possible for a deteriorating situation to go unnoticed for two weeks. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Jonas Dehning, Johannes Zierenberg, F. Paul Spitzner, Michael Wibral, Joao Pinheiro Neto: Inferring change points in the spread of COVID-19 reveals the effectiveness of interventions, in Science (published May 15, 2020), Science
  • What do the measures bring?, Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (published May 15, 2020), Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization

Video: COVID-19: Private organisations adopt social distancing measures for elderly (July 2022).


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