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Coronavirus: US betting on aggressive social distancing and self-isolation to thwart 2.2M deaths, says study

The researchers from Imperial College London believe that 81 percent of both the U.S and U.K population could get affected if the suggested prevention protocol is not religiously followed
UPDATED MAR 20, 2020
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Researchers at Imperial College of London, in a new study published on March 16 have predicted the coronavirus pandemic will unfold based on U.S and U.K's response to it.  They have also estimated that the various attempts to control the spread of the infection would impact the death count in the U.S and U.K respectively.

Lack of adequate action could lead to at least 2.2 million deaths due to coronavirus in the U.S, researchers say, even if they are treated after. They believe that 81 percent of both the U.S and U.K population could get affected, causing approximately 2.2 million fatalities in the U.S alone, along with 510,000 in the U.K.

The new study suggests that implementing social-distancing in the US,  self-isolation, and quarantine among family members would be the best method to thwart the pandemic and cut down deaths by about 90 percent. But these measures will need to stay in place for at least 18 months. Keeping people away from each other could bring down death rates to roughly 200,000, Mother Jones reports.

The study's new findings are perturbing and stress on the importance of following the new U.S guidelines that have banned public gatherings and have advised staying away from bars, pubs, restaurants, and other public places. Sticking to these rules for even the next two weeks could save millions of lives. Although the Trump administration has issued most guidelines for the next 15 days, Imperial College suggests that far longer efforts may be needed to reach a possible decline in growing cases.

The researchers have said that minimizing social contact until a vaccine is made available to the public, is highly recommended. This could take up to 18 months. Their assessment was based on the impact of two strategies on the proliferation of the deadly virus, i.e. mitigation and suppression. They concluded that mitigating is insufficient and countries should practice suppression. The point of contradiction between the two strategies is that who should be practicing them.

Imperial College experts said that mitigation policies would mean "combining home isolation for suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect case and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of the disease." This would help by cutting the death hold by at least half and relieving two-thirds of the burden on health care systems. But under these conditions, multitudes of people in the U.S and the U.K be prone to death from the pandemic and hospital would be overflowing with patients and no beds.

This is where suppression comes in, and it means stricter measures. These include restrictions on movement, closing down business venues and public places that are a social hub and generally keeping people apart. These measures aim at achieving a transmission rate below one, meaning that each infected person passes coronavirus on to less than one other person on average, says the Imperial College study. This would mean that the whole population would require to practice social distancing, an not only those who are a risk factor

So far the prevention measures including social distancing of the whole population, self-isolation, household quarantine and schools and universities shutting down are predicted to have the largest impact, the authors of the study specified. The earlier these measures are administered, the better. According to the study, if these measures were enacted at an earlier point in time when 60 new cases were confirmed each week and one person was transmitting the disease to an average of two people, then the estimated death over a two-year time frame could be as few as 5,600. The longer the wait, the larger the death rate.

While a specified death rate hasn't been estimated in the study, in the worst-case scenario for the U.S is four times as many deaths as the U.K and in the best-case scenario, it would be 22,400 deaths. Unfortunately, the U.S his way past the average number of weekly cases.

So, if the U.S were to stick to only the mitigation tactic which only applies to people who are a risk factor to contracting the virus, the healthcare system which is already weighed down by the need for requisites as more tests, ventilators and workers will certainly break under the pressure. "In addition, even if all patients were able to be treated, we predict there would still be in the order of 350,000 deaths in [Great Britain] and 1.1-1.2 million in the US,' the researches said. 

In short, it is best at the given time to stay at home, self-isolate and practice social distancing, while also abiding by other U.S guidelines to fight the pandemic.