Researchers at Imperial College London suggest social distancing the entire population is the best way to tackle the pandemic, despite resulting economic hardships
Amid speculation of relaxing the lockdown by reopening parts of the economy in Bangladesh, a study by Imperial College London finds that the suppression method is way more effective than the mitigation method in countries with lower incomes.
It predicts that the lockdown has to continue until any vaccine or cure is available. However, researchers estimated that even if the government keeps the lockdown in place, Covid-19 could claim around 52,141 lives in Bangladesh.
The research findings conclude that Bangladesh can reduce infections by 68.92% to 91.93% , and deaths by 69.21% to 91.86%, just by maintaining social distancing in the entire population until the pandemic ends.
The purpose of a lockdown, according to Imperial College London Covid-19 Response Team, is to reduce reproduction — to reduce the number of people each confirmed case infects.
It says there are two routes to try to get there — suppression and mitigation.
Suppression, or basically lockdown, aims to reduce case numbers to low levels by socially distancing the entire population indefinitely, and closing schools and universities.
Mitigation aims at slowing but not necessarily stopping the spread, thereby reducing peak healthcare demand, while protecting those most at risk. This is done by isolating suspected cases and their households, and socially distancing the elderly and people at highest risk of serious illness.
The study estimated that if Bangladesh took the mitigation route instead of the suppression or lockdown route, and applied social distancing only with select population groups such as the elderly and at risk, some 111,991,810 people could get infected and 467,030 people could die by the end of the pandemic.
If a suppression or lockdown approach is taken with a basic reproduction number of 3, and had 75% of the population practicing social distancing across the board, the number of total infected could be only 12,435,481, and the number of total deaths could be as low as 52,141, says the study.
This means that if the strategy is mitigation only and no social distancing is followed by the whole population, the number of total infected increases by 43.28% and the number of total deaths increases by 42.93%.
“We do not consider the wider social and economic costs of suppression, which will be high and may be disproportionately so in lower income settings. Moreover, suppression strategies will need to be maintained in some manner until vaccines or effective treatments become available to avoid the risk of later epidemics,” reads the study.
As of May 2, Bangladesh has confirmed 175 coronavirus deaths and nearly 8,800 infections.
The study, which was published on March 26, estimates that Covid-19 would have resulted in 7 billion infections and 40 million deaths globally this year without interventions.
Considering the healthcare system, accessibility to health care, population size and income inequality in Bangladesh, the mitigation method combined with social distancing and shielding vulnerable groups would not be as effective as the suppression method to minimize infection rates, according to the study.
As per the study, the suppression method works best for lower-middle countries like Bangladesh. However, the lockdown has hit hard on people who survive on daily wages in Bangladesh. The real challenge for the government is to provide for these people if they want to enforce a lockdown for a long period of time.
A recent study conducted by Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), in partnership with researchers from the Accountability Research Center of American University and Georgetown University, and the Development Research Initiative (dRi), found that the lockdown imposed by the government was widely accepted across the population of Bangladesh, once the first few deaths were reported in the country.
However, there has been a drastic decline in the income of daily wage earners, rickshaw pullers, and other transport workers, and it is becoming harder for them to comply with the shutdown.