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Effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19: A Tale of Three Models

By Vincent Chin, John Ioannidis, Martin Tanner, Sally Cripps

Posted 27 Jul 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.07.22.20160341

Objective: To compare the inference regarding the effectiveness of the various non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for COVID-19 obtained from different SIR models. Study design and setting: We explored two models developed by Imperial College that considered only NPIs without accounting for mobility (model 1) or only mobility (model 2), and a model accounting for the combination of mobility and NPIs (model 3). Imperial College applied models 1 and 2 to 11 European countries and to the USA, respectively. We applied these models to 14 European countries (original 11 plus another 3), over two different time horizons. Results: While model 1 found that lockdown was the most effective measure in the original 11 countries, model 2 showed that lockdown had little or no benefit as it was typically introduced at a point when the time-varying reproductive number was already very low. Model 3 found that the simple banning of public events was beneficial, while lockdown had no consistent impact. Based on Bayesian metrics, model 2 was better supported by the data than either model 1 or model 3 for both time horizons. Conclusions: Inferences on effects of NPIs are non-robust and highly sensitive to model specification. Claimed benefits of lockdown appear grossly exaggerated.

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