A combination of robust vaccination programs and strict physical distancing rules can avoid the recurring peak of COVID-19 without having to rely on stay-at-home restrictions, according to a new study conducted by epidemiologists and demographers from WorldPop at the University of Southampton, in collaboration with the Chinese University of Hong Kong. .
This research used anonymous mobile phone geolocation data with epidemiological and coronavirus case data from China to model the potential impact of vaccination and physical distancing on virus transmission. They predicted the impact of different sets of interventions on the country’s low, medium and high-density cities.
The effect of physical distancing in containing the resurgence of COVID-19 in the future depends greatly on the severity of the measures, the population density, and the availability of vaccines across geographic regions and time. Researchers are beginning to gain a greater understanding of the relationship between these factors.
The results have been published in the journal The nature of human behavior.
The team predicts that in most cities, vaccination programs and physical distancing together will be sufficient to contain the re-emergence of the virus without the need to significantly restrict population movement. Containment was defined in this study as maintaining a low transmission rate, or “R” of less than one.
Researchers report that cities with medium and high population densities will need to be vaccinated and spaced out to prevent future intense waves of COVID-19, until herd immunity is reached. However, they suggest that cities with low population density and effective immunization can stop transmission completely without the need for physical distancing. In all cities, complete “stay at home” closures will not be necessary.
The team’s results also indicate that strong physical distancing interventions that are performed for short periods of time may be more effective than mild, long-term interventions.
The author and spatial epidemiologist, Dr Shengjie Lai, Senior Researcher in Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Southampton, comments: “Our research provides a framework and set of outputs that can be used by policymakers and public health authorities to determine levels of intervention to keep the COVID-19 outbreak under control over time. Although our study was based on data from China, our methods and results are applicable to cities around the world with similar levels of population density and patterns of social contact. ”
Professor Andy Tatum, Director of WorldPop, added: “Previous studies have assumed that when people reduce their mobility, they proportionally reduce their social connections, but this is not necessarily the case, and with more SARS-CoV-2 vaccines emerging online, there is an urgent need. To understand the relationship between these factors, so that we can fine-tune and customize interventions and open sections of society in a safer way.
The researchers are aware of some of the limitations of their study, for example, the lack of data on the contribution of handwashing and face masks and vaccine supply challenges, but they emphasize that their approach can be quickly adapted to provide near-real-time data to address the critical time developments.
Notes to Editors
1) The paper titled “ Integrated Vaccination and Physical Distancing Interventions to Prevent COVID in the Future? 19 waves in Chinese cities ” in the magazine The nature of human behavior (DOI: https: /
2) The Mobility and Social Connectivity Index data used in the study were compiled and provided by Tencent, the largest social media company in China – covering 70 percent of the population on the country’s mainland. The epidemiological status and coronavirus data were obtained from records covering the Chinese city of Wuhan.
3) The University of Southampton leads original thinking, transforming knowledge into action and influence, and creates solutions to the world’s challenges. We are among the top 100 institutions globally (QS World University Rankings 2021). Our academics are leaders in their fields, forging ties with high-profile international companies and organizations, and inspiring a community of 22,000 exceptional students, from more than 135 countries around the world. Through our high-quality education, the university assists students on a journey of exploration to fulfill their potential and join our global network of more than 200,000 alumni.
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4) For more information on the COVID-19 work WorldPop is doing at the University of Southampton, visit:
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