Coronavirus: Social distancing has prevented up to 120,000 deaths in Europe, scientists say

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
Central London has been eerily quiet since social distancing was introduced. (In Pictures via Getty Images)

Draconian social distancing measures may have already saved up to 120,000 lives across Europe during the coronavirus pandemic.

An Imperial College London report found lockdown measures taken in 11 countries, including the UK, have potentially averted 120,000 deaths.

The UK government was much later in enforcing its national lockdown than other countries such as Italy and Spain: the two worst-hit in the world for COVID-19 deaths.

Boris Johnson only announced draconian social distancing rules – such as shopping for essentials only and going out for exercise once a day – on Monday last week, eight days ago.

Even so, the report found this may have already prevented 370 deaths as of Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Italy – where there had been 11,591 deaths as of 3pm on Tuesday – the researchers estimated 38,000 lives have been saved from the government’s social distancing measures.

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Dr Samir Bhatt, the report author and senior lecturer from the university’s school of public health, said: “It is of course a difficult time for Europe, but governments have taken significant steps to ensure health systems do not get overwhelmed.

“There is sound evidence that these have started to work and have flattened the curve.

“We believe a large number of lives have been saved.”

He added: “However, it is too soon to say if we have managed to fully control epidemics and more difficult decisions will need to be taken in the coming weeks.”

Read more: Why there have been so few deaths in Hong Kong

In the UK, use of public transport has dramatically fallen while towns and cities across the nation lay deserted as the majority of the public continue to follow the government’s advice.

In a letter to the nation on Sunday, Johnson pleaded: “If too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to cope. This will cost lives.

“We must slow the spread of the disease, and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment in order to save as many lives as possible.

“That is why we are giving one simple instruction – you must stay at home.

“You should not meet friends or relatives who do not live in your home. You may only leave your home for very limited purposes, such as buying food and medicine, exercising once a day and seeking medical attention. You can travel to and from work but should work from home if you can.”

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