Corona study: impact of social distance on the course of the epidemic

Corona study: impact of social distance on the course of the epidemic

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COVID-19: How much does the distance affect the risk of illness?

A research team modified a model developed for influenza so that it can be used to calculate the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. For example, it can be calculated how the virus could spread in a metropolis such as Singapore or Wuhan and what effects can be expected from measures such as social distancing.

Using a model calculation, international researchers attempted to quantify the effect of countermeasures that are being taken to contain SARS-CoV-2. The study was recently presented in the renowned journal "The Lancet Infectious Diseases".

School and workplace closings make sense in the model

The results of the calculation suggest that the closure of schools and jobs in Wuhan, China, reduced the number of COVID-19 cases and significantly delayed the peak of the epidemic, giving the health care system time to deal with the crisis as reasonably as possible react.

Second climax warning

"The unprecedented measures taken by the city of Wuhan to reduce social contacts at school and at work have helped to bring the outbreak under control," explains research director Dr. Kiesha Prem from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Great Britain.

According to the model, the city must now take care that the physical distance measures are not canceled prematurely, as this could lead to a secondary climax in the model calculations. However, if the restrictions are gradually relaxed, this could probably delay as well as flatten out.

Many unknown factors

However, the authors also caution that given the great uncertainties in reproductive estimate (how many people are likely to infect a person) and the average infection time of a person, the actual impact of physical removal measures on the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic is not accurate can be predicted.

How does the model work?

In the study, the researchers developed a transmission model to quantify the effects of school and job closings, using information about how often people of different ages mix in different places.

Using the latest data on the prevalence of COVID-19 in Wuhan and the rest of China, taking into account the number of contacts per day by age groups at school and at work, the researchers compared the effects of three scenarios:

  1. No interventions, no holidays and vacations (hypothetically).
  2. No interventions with normal public holidays and school holidays.
  3. Intensive interventions with school and workplace closings as well as physical distancing. In addition, in the third scenario, the differences were played out if the interventions were abolished abruptly or in a staggered manner.

The curve could be flattened in the model

The analyzes indicate that the normal school holidays and public holidays would have had little impact on the course of the outbreak if schools and workplaces were open as usual. However, the introduction of extreme measures to reduce social contacts at school and in the workplace could reduce the number of cases and the extent of the epidemic peak in the model, while at the same time delaying the peak of the epidemic.

The effects of these distancing measures appear to vary with age, with the decline in newborns appearing to be greatest in schoolchildren and the elderly and least in adults of working age. However, as soon as these interventions are relaxed, the number of cases is expected to increase again.

The most effective method

The results of the analyzes indicate that physical distancing measures are most effective when the return to work and school begins in stages. This method was able to reduce the number of new infections in the model by 24 percent by the end of 2020 and delay a second highlight until October.

Results cannot be transferred one to one into reality

"Our results will not look exactly the same in another country, because the population structure and the way in which people mix will be different," says co-author Dr. To consider Yang Liu. Nevertheless, a clear effect can probably be expected everywhere through physical distance measures. The study underlines that the way in which the measures are lifted can also play a decisive role in the further course of the pandemic.

Study could be important for political decisions

Dr. Commenting on the study, Tim Colbourn of University College London said: “The study by Kiesha Prem and the team at The Lancet Public Health is critical for policy makers everywhere, as it affects the impact of extending or loosening physical controls on the outbreak coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, China. "

"In view of the fact that many countries with an increasing epidemic may now be facing the first phase of the closure, safe ways out of the situation have to be found," summarizes the expert. (vb)

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.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Kiesha Prem, Yang Liu, Timothy W Russell, and others: The effect of control strategies to reduce social mixing on outcomes of the COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan, China: a modeling study; in: The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2020,
  • The Lancet Public Health: Modeling study estimates impact of physical distancing measures on progression of COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan, (published: 25.03.2020),

Video: Can controlled herd immunity be an alternative to social distancing? Coronavirus Analysis (October 2022).