Is a tiered restrictions system an effective intervention for COVID-19 control? Results from Portugal, November-December 2020

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Background: In November 2020, similar to other European countries, Portugal implemented a tiered restrictions system to control the COVID-19 pandemic. We aimed to compare the COVID-19 growth rate across tiers to assess the effect of a tiered restrictions system in Portugal, using models with different times between tiers assessment. Our hypothesis was that being in a higher tier brings a faster deceleration in the growth rate than being in a lower tier. Methods: The national database of notified COVID-19 cases and publicly available data were used to analyse the effect of the tiered restrictions system on the COVID-19 incidence growth rate. The tiers were based on the European Centre for Disease Control risk classification: moderate, high, very and extremely high. We used a generalised mixed-effects regression model to estimate the growth rate ratio (GRR) for each tier, comparing the growth rates of higher tiers using moderate tier as reference. Three models were fitted using different times between tiers assessment, separated by 14 days. Results: We included 156 034 cases. Very high tier was the most frequent combination in all the three moments assessed (21.2%), and almost 50% of the municipalities never changed tier during the study period. Immediately after the tiers implementation, a reduction was identified in the municipalities in high tier (GRR high tier: 0.90 [95%CI: 0.79; 1.02]) and very high tier (GRR very high tier: 0.68 [95%CI: 0.61; 0.77]), however with some imprecision in the 95% confidence interval for the high tier. A reduction in very high tier growth rate was identified two weeks (GRR: 0.79 [95%CI: 0.71; 0.88]) and four weeks (GRR: 0.77 [95%CI: 0.74; 0.82]) after the implementation, compared to moderate tier. In high tier, a reduction was also identified in both times, although smaller. Conclusions: We observed a reduction in the growth rate in very high tier after the tiered restriction system was implemented, but we also observed a lag between tiered restriction system implementation and the onset of consequent effects. This could suggest the importance of early implementation of stricter measures for pandemic control. Thus, studies analysing a broader period of time are needed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number956
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024


  • COVID-19
  • Epidemiology
  • Incidence rate
  • Infectious diseases
  • Tiered restrictions


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