By Joel Achenbach and Laura Meckler
June 8, 2020 at 12:15 p.m. PDT
Shutdown orders prevented about 60 million novel coronavirus infections in the United States and 285 million in China, according to a research study published Monday that examined how stay-at-home orders and other restrictions limited the spread of the contagion. A separate study from epidemiologists at Imperial College London estimated the shutdowns saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries, including 500,000 in the United Kingdom, and dropped infection rates by an average of 82 percent, sufficient to drive the contagion well below epidemic levels.
The two reports, published simultaneously Monday in the journal Nature, used completely different methods to reach similar conclusions. They suggest that the aggressive and unprecedented shutdowns, which caused massive economic disruptions and job losses, were effective at halting the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus. “Without these policies employed, we would have lived through a very different April and May,” said Solomon Hsiang, director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley, and the leader of the research team that surveyed how six countries — China, the United States, France, Italy, Iran and South Korea — responded to the pandemic.
His team estimated that, in the initial days after the virus was seeded in each country, and before the shutdowns, the number of infections was doubling every two days. “The disease was spreading at a really extraordinary rate that is rare even among very infectious diseases,” he said in an interview. The global response to covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, resulted in “saving more lives in a shorter period of time than ever before,” he said in a separate conference call with reporters.