If no measures had been taken to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, 40 million people could have died, a new UK study finds.
Researchers at Imperial College London made the findings based on analysis which estimated the potential scale of the pandemic across the world.
But with mitigation strategies such as protecting the elderly and social distancing, the death toll could by anywhere from 50 percent to 95 percent, saving 38 million people.
In the model, the team found that, if left unchecked, around seven billion people could have been infected – about 90 percent of the global population.
Worldwide 500,000 people so far have been been infected and more than 23,000 people have died.
The researchers stress the models are not predictions of what will happen, but they illustrate the magnitude of the problem and the benefits of rapid, decisive and collective action.
Researchers at Imperial College London looked at a model of what would have happened if no countries took measures against the coronavirus (left) versus measures such as social distancing (right)
If left unchecked, the virus could have killed 40 million people and infected around seven billion people. Pictured: EMTs lift a coronavirus patient into an ambulance in New York City, March 26
But certain actions such as social distancing can cut the death toll by at least 95 percent, saving 38.7 million lives. Pictured: A patient with a face mask is being carried to an ambulance at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, March 25
The report is the twelfth from the research team since the outbreak began in Wuhan, China in December 2019.
‘Our findings suggest that all countries face a choice between intensive and costly measures to suppress transmission or risk health systems becoming rapidly overwhelmed,’ said co-author Dr Patrick Walker, a member of the faculty of medicine at Imperial.
‘However, our results highlight that rapid, decisive and collective action now will save millions of lives in the next year.’
Several measures have been taken including lockdowns around the world such as in the UK, several US states, India, Spain, Italy, France and China.
The study highlights that failure to mitigate the impact could lead to huge loss of life.
Researchers looked at a number of scenarios, including what would have happened if the world had not reacted to COVID-19: the ‘unmitigated scenario’.
They also included two scenarios incorporating social distancing, which result in a single-peaked epidemic : mitigated scenarios.
There were also several scenarios for suppressing the spread of the disease that can have the largest overall impact in terms of reducing disease and deaths.
According to the unmitigated scenario, if left unchecked, the virus could have infected seven billion people and caused around 40 million deaths this year.
In the US, a scenario in which no measures were put in place could have led to 2.18 million deaths, and in the UK to 490,000 deaths.
The team says rapid adoption of proven public health measures – such as testing and isolation of cases, and wider social distancing to prevent onward transmission – are critical in curbing the impact of the pandemic.
Reducing social contacts by 40 percent, coupled with a 60 percent reduction in social contacts among the elderly population, could reduce this burden by around half
In the US, a scenario in which no measures were put in place could have led to 2.18 million deaths, and in the UK to 490,000 deaths. Pictured: Doctors test hospital staff with flu-like symptoms for coronavirus at St Barnabas hospital in the Bronx, New York, March 24
As of Thursday there are over 83,000 cases of the virus in the US and over 1,000 deaths
The number of cases in the US has rocketed over the last two weeks
If all countries were to adopt this strategy at 0.2 deaths per 100,000 population per week, 95 percent of the deaths could be averted, saving 38.7 million lives.
However, if this strategy is adopted later, at 1.6 deaths per 100,000 population per week, then this figure drops to 30.7 million.
‘Rapid, decisive and collective action is required by all countries to limit the effect of this pandemic,’ said professor Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial,
‘Acting early has the potential to reduce mortality by as much as 95%, saving 38.7 million lives.
‘At the same time, consideration needs to be given to the broader impact of all measures that are put in place to ensure that those that are most vulnerable are protected from the wider health, social and economic impacts of such action.’