What is the impact of lockdowns in controlling the spread of COVID-19? The Young Digital Leaders (YDL) Malaysia today shared their analysis on the impact of movement restrictions on several key countries. YDL Malaysia is a team of experts consists of epidemiologists, statisticians, mathematicians and data scientists in the country. The team is led by public health medicine specialist, Dr Dhesi Baha Raja and medical officer, Dr Anwar Fazal.
Benchmarking against China’s success story
China is the only major country that has managed to bring down the number of new cases to very low levels based on official figures. This was achieved by a strict implementation of lockdown that went beyond the level practiced in Europe and elsewhere. Lockdown was only eased 60 days after it was first imposed, at the time when the number of new cases were practically zero. In fact, near-zero level (both in terms of new cases and day-on-day growth) was achieved around 2 weeks prior to the easing of the lockdown, but the strict measures remained intact.
Based on the lessons learned from China, it would be premature for other countries to lift movement restrictions currently in place until the benchmark seen in China has been reached in order to avoid future outbreaks. While the strictest form of lockdown has been lifted in China, many other measures are still in place there until the government is confident that the outbreak is truly behind them.
South Korea: containment without lockdown
South Korea managed to control its outbreak through containment and contract tracing without the need for lockdown measures. While this analysis focuses on the impact on movement restriction, it would be beneficial to study how the outbreak phases panned out in South Korea and what other countries can learn from it.
Also note that unlike China where new cases tend to hover around a single or two-digit, South Korea to date stabilizes at around 100-case mark which it will continue to manage in preventing it from exploding to a new peak. This may well be the outcome for other countries, which further suggests the importance of continuous efforts to contain the spread and not to let our guards down when the worse may appear to be behind us.
Countries currently under movement restrictions
While the United States is the worst-affected country to date, there is still limited timeframe available to analyse its lockdown impact as the country continues to exponentially grow in new cases. Therefore, we shall not be looking at the United States for comparison and focused our benchmark towards 4 key European countries with nationwide restrictions.
Italy, once the worst-hit country behind China during its peak, have started to show positive signs from the lockdown around 3 to 4 weeks after it was first implemented in the north. With the latest day-on-day exponential growth at around 5% and total case of over 115,000 as of Apr 2, the number will still continue to rise in large numbers, but it does seem to be moving in the right direction towards a gradual recovery.
Spain seems to be around one or two weeks behind Italy in terms of the pace of recovery. There appears to be a first sign of a shift in the past few days but it may still be early to conclude that the nationwide State of Alarm is driving total cases down.
France is in their third week of lockdown where the first sign of a turn may be on the horizon as in the case of Spain, but more time is needed before a fair assessment can be made.
United Kingdom is relatively behind in imposing a strict movement restriction. After nearly two weeks of implementation, an upward trend in daily cases with an exponential growth of above 13% is still being observed. As in the case of its neighbouring countries, it may take another week or two before the first signs of a positive effect could be observed.
Malaysia is currently in the second week of Movement Control Order (MCO). Although it appears that the number of new cases is heading towards a stabilizing trend instead of going upwards, more time is needed to assess if the restrictions imposed by the government are having a significant impact on the number of new cases. A continuous downward trend and a flattening in new cases and needs to be sustained for a substantial amount of time before the movement restrictions can be loosened or lifted.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Science Media Centre Malaysia
Bionotes of experts
Dr Dhesi Baha Raja is a Public Health Medicine Specialist who is passionate about data science and machine learning. He completed his Masters in Public Health Medicine, Doctorate in Health Informatics and pursued his graduate studies in (GSP) Exponential Technology in Silicon Valley, California. His vision in innovation is seen as a great mileage to the healthcare world with the ability to perform and transform R&D into practise. Dr Dhesi won first prize for the Global Impact Competition and obtained a scholarship from Google to Singularity University as the National Aeronautic & Space Administration (NASA) in Silicon Valley, California. He was also chosen by Forbes International as the Top 40 World Changers, acknowledgement as an exemplary by the Clinton Foundation, Winner of the Pistoia Life Science Innovations Award 2016 by King’s College London, and was awarded MIT Top 10 Innovator Award 2017. Recently he was seen as a leader in health innovations and was awarded as the Top 10 Exceptional Scientist by the United Nations during the recent 2016 UN General Assembly.
Dr Anwar Fazal Abu Bakar serves as the Principal Assistant Director of the Private Medical Practice division in the MOH. He completed his Masters in Hospital Management and Health Economy at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. He is one of the first few doctors who were appointed as prosecuting officers in the MOH and he is also the medicolegal representative for MedTweetMY which is an NGO with a vision of dispensing accurate medical information and knowledge via different platforms of the social media, especially in twitter. He initiated the social media platform for a number of divisions in the MOH and now handles these portfolios. He is also the author of 5 medical novels which all made it as national bestsellers. As a reward for his passion in incorporating the role of media in medicine he was recently awarded the 2019 Top 50 ASEAN Social Media Influencers (AOEBA). In addition to that he received a Sunway scholarship to join the Leadership in Medicine South East Asia (SEAL) program at Harvard Medical School.
**All previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/