Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a lockdown in many countries to control the exponential spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, hereby reducing the time-varying basic reproduction number (Rt) to below one. Governments are looking for evidence to balance the demand of their citizens to ease some of the restriction, against the fear of a new peak in infections. In this study, we wanted to quantify the relative contribution of mobility restrictions, and that of behavioral changes that occurred already before the lockdowns, on the reduction of transmission during lockdowns in Western countries in early 2020. Methods: Incidence data of cases and deaths from the first wave of infections for 35 Western countries (32 European, plus Israel, USA and Canada) were analyzed using epidemiological compartment models in a Bayesian framework. Mobility data was used to estimate the timing of changes associated with a lockdown, and was correlated with estimated reductions of Rt. Results: Across all countries, the initial median estimate for Rt was 3.6 (95% IQR 2.4–5.2), and it was reduced to 0.78 (95% IQR 0.58–1.01) during lockdown. 48% (18–65%) of the reduction occurred already in the week before lockdown, with lockdown itself causing the remaining drop in transmission. A lower Rt during lockdown was independently associated with an increased time spent at home (0.21 per 10% more time, p < 0.007), and decreased mobility related to retail and recreation (0.07 per 10% less mobility, p < 0.008). Conclusions: In a Western population unaware of the risk, SARS-CoV-2 can be highly contagious with a reproduction number R0 > 5. Our results are consistent with evidence that recreational activities (including restaurant and bar visits) enable super-spreading events. Exiting from lockdown therefore requires continued physical distancing and tight control on this kind of activities.
- Non-pharmaceutical interventions
- Reproduction number