Stringent travel restrictions imposed in China in an attempt to control the new coronavirus only “modestly” delayed the virus’ spread in mainland China, a new study has found.
The study published on Friday in the journal Science found that the travel ban imposed on Wuhan, China after the virus was detected late last year only delayed the overall epidemic progression by three to five days in the country’s mainland.
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Beginning on Jan. 23, Chinese officials placed Wuhan — believed to be the epicentre of the virus — under strict lockdown. In the days and weeks following, more than 50 million people across the country were placed under quarantine, as health officials scrambled to contain the viral outbreak.
The study found that while the effect on China transmission was small, the travel ban in Wuhan did have a “more marked effect” at limiting the spread of the virus to the rest of the world.
The simulation found that there were 77 per cent less cases imported from mainland China when the travel restrictions were in place, than without the ban. But, researchers said this only lasted between two and three weeks, into mid-February.
After that time, research showed the number of cases internationally increased as more cases were imported from different parts of China.
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The study also found that even with the strong restrictions in place in mainland China, a large number of individuals who were exposed to the virus had been travelling internationally without detection.
Researchers said the study revealed that the 90 per cent travel restrictions to and from mainland China only “modestly effect the epidemic trajectory,” unless combined with public health interventions and behavioural changes that achieve “50 per cent or higher reduction of transmission in the community.”
“Moving forward we expect that travel restrictions to COVID-19 affected areas will have modest effects, and that transmission-reduction interventions will provide the greatest benefit to mitigate the epidemic,” the study’s authors wrote.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Italian government announced its own sweeping quarantine for the country’s northern regions, igniting travel chaos as it restricted the movements of a quarter of its people in a bid to halt the virus’ relentless march across Europe.