European countries that had stricter mitigation measures against COVID-19 likely saved thousands of lives, a new study finds.
Nations such as Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina had closed schools and offices, limited gatherings and implemented stay-at-home orders before cases began rapidly spreading across the continent, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed on Tuesday.
Meanwhile countries such as the UK, Belarus and Luxembourg implanted few to no restrictions, allowing infections to spread relatively unchecked.
The CDC’s latest study does not included the US, focusing solely only on 37 European countries, each of which implemented nationwide restrictions at some point in the pandemic.
The US, on the other hand, made national recommendations, but left it to the states to decide whether to mandate masks, school closures or other restrictions.
As a result, American mitigation measures were a patchwork, full of gaps that allowed people who couldn’t gather in one state to travel to another for house parties, and generally made it difficult to gain a sense of how earlier restrictions could have reduced COVID-19 deaths.
The CDC has studied the effects of mandates on the state level.
One of its reports found that Delaware’s statewide stay-at-home order, mask mandate and contact tracing program drove new case numbers down by 82 percent, cut hospitalizations by 88 percent – and resulted in a 100 percent reduction in COVID-19 deaths between April and June.
For the study, published in the CDC’s weekly MMWR report, the team looked at data from 37 European countries through June 30.
Data on which mitigation policies were implemented were obtained from the CDC COVID-19 International Taskforce.
Each country was given a score from one to 100 based on the University of Oxford’s Stringency Index (OSI), which looks at whether or not a country adopted nine mitigation policies.
These include cancelation of public events, school closures, gathering restrictions, workplace closures, border closures, internal movement restrictions, public transport closure, recommendations to stay at home, and stay-at-home orders.
Mask mandates and requirements were not included in the index.
The majority of those averted fatalities would have been in the UK with 22,776 fewer deaths, France at 13,365 and Spain at 9,346.
‘European countries that implemented more stringent mitigation policies by the time they reached an early mortality threshold in spring 2020 tended to report fewer COVID-19–associated deaths through the end of June,’ the authors wrote.
‘Countries that implemented stringent policies earlier might have saved several thousand lives relative to those countries that implemented similar policies, but later.’
This follows results of similar studies such as one European report from December 2020, which found that implementing school closures and gathering bans 1one week earlier could have reduced mortality by 44 percent.
Another U.S. study from November 2020 which found that states and counties that delayed implementing measures experienced more prolonged outbreaks.
‘These findings suggest that earlier implementation, even by just a few weeks, might be important to preventing widespread transmission and large numbers of deaths,’ the CDC authors concluded.