Stay-at-home rules may not be necessary with vaccines and distancing – study

Ben Mitchell, PA

Strict stay-at-home restrictions may not be required to prevent further Covid-19 peaks if a robust vaccination programme is put in place along with strict physical distancing rules, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Southampton used mobile phone geolocation data combined with coronavirus case data from China to model the potential impact of vaccination and physical distancing on virus transmission.

The study, carried out in collaboration with The Chinese University in Hong Kong, found that cities with medium and high density populations will need both vaccination and distancing to prevent future intense waves of Covid-19, until herd immunity is reached.

However, the report published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, suggests cities with low populations and effective vaccination could fully interrupt transmission without the need for physical distancing.

In all cities, full “stay-at-home” lockdowns would no longer be necessary, the researchers said.

Nurse Eleanor Pinkerton prepares a coronavirus vaccine (Jane Barlow/PA)
Nurse Eleanor Pinkerton prepares a coronavirus vaccine (Jane Barlow/PA)

And the results, which do not take into account hand-washing or face masks, also suggest strong physical distancing interventions implemented for short periods of time may be more effective than mild, longer term ones.

Dr Shengjie Lai, of the University of Southampton, said: “Our research provides a framework and set of outputs that can be used by policy-makers and public health authorities to identify appropriate levels of intervention to keep Covid-19 outbreaks in check over time.

“Although our study was based on data from China, our methods and findings are applicable to cities worldwide with similar levels of population density and social contact patterns.”

Director of the university’s WorldPop research group Professor Andy Tatem said: “Previous studies have assumed that when people reduce mobility, they proportionately reduce their social contacts, but this isn’t necessarily the case and as more Sars-CoV-2 vaccines come online, there is an urgent need to understand the relationship between these factors, so we can adjust and tailor interventions and open up sections of society in a safer way.”

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