study published this week found that China could have prevented 95 percent of coronavirus infections if its measures to contain the outbreak had begun sooner. The research from the University of Southampton suggests that Chinese officials should have listened to the coronavirus whistleblower, Dr. Li Wenliang, when he tried to sound the alarm on December 30. Instead, the police silenced him and eight others for spreading “rumors.” China’s Public Security Bureau made Dr. Li sign a letter stating that he had made “false comments” and had “severely disturbed the social order.” Ignoring these crucial whistleblowers delayed China’s response for at least three weeks.

A report by the New York Times also accused China of ignoring offers of assistance that came in January, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, for over a month.

The population mapping group WorldPop, School of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Southampton, UK, conducted the study. It looked at the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical interventions, such as the quarantine of exposed individuals, restricting travel and closing schools, on containing the COVID-19 outbreak. The researchers found “the early detection and isolation of cases was estimated to prevent more infections than travel restrictions and contact reductions.”

The study used simulations based on human movement and illness data to demonstrate how combined interventions might affect the spread of the virus. The models indicate that Coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 66 percent if authorities had taken the measures within a week, or by 86 percent if they began two weeks earlier. Delaying action for three weeks caused the spread of the virus to worsen by 95%.

The report concluded that an approach that integrated these measures with nonpharmaceutical interventions would achieve the most substantial and most rapid effect to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The research also suggests that social distancing intervention should be continued for the next few months in China to prevent case numbers from increasing again.

This study, supported in part by the grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has not yet been peer-reviewed.

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