18 March 2020
London: In the absence of a vaccine and drastic measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the disease may kill as many as 22 lakh people in the US and over 5 lakh in the UK, according to new projections by London's Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team.
The study predicted that in the absence of control measures, as much as 81 per cent of the population in the US and the UK may get infected during the course of the coronavirus epidemic.
"In total, in an unmitigated epidemic, we would predict approximately 510,000 deaths in GB (Great Britain) and 2.2 million in the US, not accounting for the potential negative effects of health systems being overwhelmed on mortality," said the study.
For the study, the researchers applied a previously published microsimulation model to two countries: the UK and the US.
The results of the study prompted both the US and the UK to ramp up efforts to suppress the epidemic.
In fact, the researchers concluded that a strategy of "suppression" would prove to be more effective than "mitigation" in reducing deaths and preventing healthcare systems being overwhelmed.
A strategy of "mitigation" focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread -- reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection.
The "suppression" strategy aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely, according to the study which modelled the impact of different non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) on the number of deaths and the healthcare system.
"We show that in the UK and US context, suppression will minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of their family members," the study authors wrote.
"This may need to be supplemented by school and university closures, though it should be recognised that such closures may have negative impacts on health systems due to increased absenteeism," they added.
The researchers, however, noted that while the experience in China and now South Korea shows that suppression is possible in the short term, it remains to be seen whether it is possible long-term, and whether the social and economic costs of the interventions adopted thus far can be reduced.
"Our Report 9 on #COVID19 shouldn't be a surprise, but its not an easy read. This virus is just too severe. Flattening the curve not so different from containment," one of the study authors, Steven Riley, said in a tweet on Tuesday.