Hong Kong shows virus can be contained without total lockdown: study

London, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- Hong Kong managed the first wave of coronavirus infections without resorting to a complete lockdown, opting for an increase in testing, contact tracing and changes in the behavior of the population.

A study published Friday by The Lancet Public Health maintains that these measures create less disruption in society and the economy than a strict lockdown, but they are effective in controlling the spread of COVID-19.

“By quickly implementing public health measures, Hong Kong has demonstrated that COVID-19 transmission can be effectively contained without resorting to the highly disruptive complete lockdown adopted by China, the USA, and Western European countries,” research leader Professor Benjamin Cowling from the University of Hong Kong said.

The research indicates that, as of Mar. 31, it appeared that city’s authorities had averted a major outbreak of coronavirus after making decisions “far less drastic” than most countries.

In addition to the aforementioned measures, they also applied border entry restrictions, quarantine and isolation of cases and contacts, while introducing “some degree” of social distancing.

The authorities, the study says, in late January carried out intense surveillance for infections on travelers who entered the territory and also in the local community, with daily tests in early March on around 400 outpatients and 600 inpatients.

“Extensive efforts were also made to track down and quarantine all close contacts an infected person had seen two days before becoming ill,” it said.

In addition, all those arriving in Hong Kong from mainland China and from infected countries had to observe a 14-day quarantine at home or in designated facilities.

The government of the former British colony also encouraged the adoption of social distancing through work flexibility arrangements, the closure of schools and cancellation of large events.

The study estimates that, since the introduction of measures in late January, the effective reproduction number (how many people an individual with the virus is likely to infect) has remained at one in the following eight weeks, which suggests that the epidemic remains stable.

As of Mar. 31, Hong Kong had 715 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 94 asymptomatic infections and four deaths, in a population of 7.5 million. It now has 1,022 cases and four deaths.

The study authors said that the measures adopted in Hong Kong to stop the local transmission of the virus are probably feasible in many parts of the world and could be applied in other countries with the necessary resources.

However, they warn that it is not possible to evaluate the individual effect of each measure, since they were implemented simultaneously.

“Other governments can learn from the success of Hong Kong. If these measures and population responses can be sustained, while avoiding fatigue among the general population, they could substantially lessen the impact of a local COVID-19 epidemic,” Cowling said.

The authors also highlighted that COVID-19 has changed the habits and behaviors of individuals, according to several telephone surveys carried out once a month from January to March with around 1,000 people each time.

The most recent in March reveals that 85 percent of respondents reported avoiding crowded places, and 99 percent reported wearing face masks when leaving home – up from 75 percent and 61 percent respectively from the January survey. EFE-EPA


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