Effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions on COVID-19: A Tale of Three Models

December, 2020


Objective To compare the inference regarding the effectiveness of the various non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for COVID-19 obtained from different SIR models.

Study design and setting We explored two models developed by Imperial College that considered only NPIs without accounting for mobility (model 1) or only mobility (model 2), and a model accounting for the combination of mobility and NPIs (model 3). Imperial College applied models 1 and 2 to 11 European countries and to the USA, respectively. We applied these models to 14 European countries (original 11 plus another 3), over two different time horizons.

Results While model 1 found that lockdown was the most effective measure in the original 11 countries, model 2 showed that lockdown had little or no benefit as it was typically introduced at a point when the time-varying reproductive number was already very low. Model 3 found that the simple banning of public events was beneficial, while lockdown had no consistent impact. Based on Bayesian metrics, model 2 was better supported by the data than either model 1 or model 3 for both time horizons.

Conclusions Inferences on effects of NPIs are non-robust and highly sensitive to model specification. Claimed benefits of lockdown appear grossly exaggerated.

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