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COVID-19

How lockdowns and restrictions across different European countries may have saved lives

Strict containment measures and social distancing measures might have already saved up to 59,000 lives across 11 European countries battling the spread of the new coronavirus, scientists say. Here's a closer look.

How lockdowns and restrictions across different European countries may have saved lives
A woman waves from the window of her flat in the district of Trastevere in Rome on March 20, 2020 . AFP

Basing their modelling on the numbers of recorded deaths from COVID-19, researchers from Imperial College London said most countries it looked at had likely dramatically reduced the rate at which the virus spreads.

Using the experiences of countries with the most advanced epidemics like Italy and Spain, the study compared actual fatality rates with an estimate of what would have happened with no measures such as school closures, event  cancellations and lockdowns. 

“With current interventions remaining in place to at least the end of March, we estimate that interventions across all 11 countries will have averted 59,000 deaths up to 31 March,” said the report, which was released Monday.  

“Many more deaths will be averted through ensuring that interventions remain in place until transmission drops to low levels.”

Billions of people around the world have been ordered to stay home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 38,000 people since it emerged in China late last year. 

The Imperial College study said despite the grave strain on the medical system in Italy, lockdown measures had “averted a health care catastrophe”, estimating that the containment efforts had saved 38,000 lives. 

In Spain researchers estimate 16,000 lives had been saved, while in France the number was 2,500, in Belgium 560, Germany 550, the United Kingdom 370, Switzerland 340, Austria 140, Denmark 69 and Norway 10.

For Sweden, which has been somewhat of an outlier in Europe so far for avoiding any strict lockdown on the public, the number given was 82.

Epidemiologists from Imperial College are part of the group advising the British government on its outbreak response.  

The study, which used assumptions about the proportion of infected people not recorded in official figures, estimated that some 5.9 million people could have been infected in Italy up to March 28 — almost 10 percent of the population. 

In Spain, researchers noted a recent “large increase” in deaths and estimated that some seven million people — or 15 percent  of the population — have been infected.  

It said it was too early to say whether countries with lower death tolls would see a comparable impact of their intervention measures as those battling a more severe epidemic. 

“We cannot say for certain that the current measures have controlled the epidemic in Europe; however, if current trends continue, there is reason for optimism,” it added.

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COVID-19

Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Spanish health experts have advised the government that the use of masks should no longer be obligatory on public transport, but no concrete date has yet been set.

Health experts advise end of masks on public transport in Spain

Health experts who advise the Spanish Ministry of Health have said that masks should no longer be mandatory on public transport, but with the caveat that the government should first wait and observe the epidemiological situation in China, which has experienced a surge in case numbers since it abandoned its strict ‘Zero Covid’ strategy at the end of 2022, following widespread civil unrest.

The use of masks on public transport has now been the norm in Spain for almost three years, since the start of the pandemic. 

Speaking to Ser Canarias, Darias said: “We are getting closer and closer [to the end of having to wear a mask], but we will have to see how things evolve in order to make that decision; obviously the epidemiological situation is getting better and better, but we have to see how the issue of China evolves”. 

Reports in the Spanish press suggest some kind of agreement was made during a meeting between the government and the experts in December that masks would no longer be compulsory after assessing the situation in China, however, there is still no fixed date.

Back in October 2022, Spain’s ‘Emergency Unit’ suggested that mask rules would not be reviewed until March 2023 at the earliest, but more recently it said that it does not seem necessary to wait for March to remove the mask rule. 

According to recent Ministry of Health figures, just 2.79 percent of hospital beds in Spain are taken up by Covid-19 patients.

READ ALSO: Face masks to remain mandatory on public transport in Spain until March 2023

The use of masks indoors in Spain ceased to be mandatory on April 20th, 2022, after almost two years, however, they have remained mandatory in hospitals, pharmacies and, crucially, also on buses, metro, trains, planes and taxis.

While the mask rules have been strictly enforced in some places in Spain such as Seville and Valencia, in other cities such as Barcelona, many people refuse to wear them, despite the regulations still officially being in place. 

READ ALSO: Spain now requires Covid certificates for arrivals from China

In China, figures suggest that almost 60,000 people have died as a result of Covid-19 in a single month amid the spike in cases following the end of the country’s draconian restrictions. In response, Spain reintroduced health control checks for travellers arriving from China. 

It seems that Darias and the Spanish government are waiting to see how the situation plays out in China first, but all the indications and expert advice seems to suggest that masks will no longer be mandatory in public transport sometime very soon. 

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