Wearing face masks, social distancing may prevent 'second Covid-19 wave': study

Researchers do however, point out that individual behaviour is also key for preventing a second wave

24 June 2020 - 08:16 By AFP Relaxnews
Social distancing and wearing face masks as countries lift their lockdowns could be a significant factor in preventing a second wave of Covid-19, according to new research.
Social distancing and wearing face masks as countries lift their lockdowns could be a significant factor in preventing a second wave of Covid-19, according to new research.
Image: filadendron/iStock via AFP Relaxnews

New Spanish research has found that maintaining the interventions implemented during the Covid-19 confinements, such as social distancing and wearing face masks, could help prevent a second wave of infections and the need for more lockdowns.

Carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institution supported by the la Caixa Foundation, the new study made projections on how a second wave could be prevented based on a model that divides the people in a population into seven groups: susceptible, quarantined, exposed, infectious not detected, reported infectious and confined, recovered and dead.

The researchers applied their model to a range of countries including Spain, New Zealand, Japan, the United States, Indonesia, and Argentina, which had all dealt with and been affected by the virus differently.

The findings, published in Nature Human Behaviour, showed that the length of the first confinement will affect the timing and extent of any subsequent waves and suggested that lockdowns should remain in place for at least 60 days to prevent the epidemic growing as well as a second, larger wave within the next few months.

The researchers add that gradually lifting lockdowns will also result in a lower number of infections and deaths, rather than suddenly releasing a large part of the population. For example, not all workers should return to work at the same time, and those who are more vulnerable to the virus should continue to try to stay home.

However, the researchers point out that individual behaviour is also key for preventing a second wave, and that methods such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and using face masks could potentially remove the need for future lockdowns, even in countries that do not have the resources to test and trace all Covid-19 cases and contacts.

"If we manage to reduce transmission rate by 30 percent through the use of face masks, hand hygiene and social distancing, we can considerably reduce the magnitude of the next wave. Reducing transmission rate by 50 percent could avoid it completely," says Xavier Rodó, head of ISGlobal's Climate and Health program.

The researchers say that countries need to find a delicate balance between jumpstarting the economy again while avoiding a second wave of infections.

"The problem is that assessing this risk is difficult, given the lack of reliable information on the actual number of people infected or the extent of immunity developed among the population," explains Rodó.

"Our model is different because it considers the return of confined people to the susceptible population to estimate the effect of deconfinement, and it includes people's behaviors and risk perception as modulating factors."

"This model can be particularly useful for countries where the peak of cases has not yet been reached, such as those in the Southern hemisphere. It would allow to evaluate control policies and minimize the number of cases and fatalities caused by the virus," explains co-author and ISGlobal researcher Leonardo López.