Effect of school closures on mortality from coronavirus disease 2019: Old and new predictions

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Objective To replicate and analyse the information available to UK policymakers when the lockdown decision was taken in March 2020 in the United Kingdom. Design Independent calculations using the CovidSim code, which implements Imperial College London's individual based model, with data available in March 2020 applied to the coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) epidemic. Setting Simulations considering the spread of covid-19 in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Population About 70 million simulated people matched as closely as possible to actual UK demographics, geography, and social behaviours. Main outcome measures Replication of summary data on the covid-19 epidemic reported to the UK government Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), and a detailed study of unpublished results, especially the effect of school closures. Results The CovidSim model would have produced a good forecast of the subsequent data if initialised with a reproduction number of about 3.5 for covid-19. The model predicted that school closures and isolation of younger people would increase the total number of deaths, albeit postponed to a second and subsequent waves. The findings of this study suggest that prompt interventions were shown to be highly effective at reducing peak demand for intensive care unit (ICU) beds but also prolong the epidemic, in some cases resulting in more deaths long term. This happens because covid-19 related mortality is highly skewed towards older age groups. In the absence of an effective vaccination programme, none of the proposed mitigation strategies in the UK would reduce the predicted total number of deaths below 200 000. Conclusions It was predicted in March 2020 that in response to covid-19 a broad lockdown, as opposed to a focus on shielding the most vulnerable members of society, would reduce immediate demand for ICU beds at the cost of more deaths long term. The optimal strategy for saving lives in a covid-19 epidemic is different from that anticipated for an influenza epidemic with a different mortality age profile.




Rice, K., Wynne, B., Martin, V., & Ackland, G. J. (2020). Effect of school closures on mortality from coronavirus disease 2019: Old and new predictions. The BMJ, 371. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3588

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