A report found that measures taken during the Covid pandemic, such as social distancing and wearing face masks, unequivocally reduced the spread of infection.
Experts looked at the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions – not drugs or vaccines – when applied in packages that combine a number of complementary measures.
The report called the Royal Society COVID-19: examining the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventionsreviewed evidence collected during the epidemic for six groups of NPIs and their effectiveness in reducing transmission.
These included masks and face coverings, social distancing and lockdowns, testing, tracing and isolation, travel restrictions and controls across international borders, environmental controls, and communications.
The review found that when assessed individually, there was positive – albeit limited – evidence of reduced transmission from several non-pharmacological drugs used in the epidemic. However, evidence of a positive effect was clear when countries used combinations of non-profit indicators.
In addition, evidence has shown that non-pharmacological drugs were more effective when the intensity of transmission was low, supporting their use early in an epidemic and at the first sign of disease resurgence.
During the early stages of a response to an emerging infectious disease, NPIs tend to be the only controls available before drug therapies and vaccines are developed.
However, as we have seen during the pandemic, their use can have negative personal, educational and economic consequences, making evaluation of their effectiveness essential.
Professor Sir Mark Walport, Secretary of State for the Royal Society and chair of the expert working group on the report, said: “There is sufficient evidence to conclude that early and rigorous implementation of complementary non-pharmacological drug packages has been unequivocally effective in reducing SARS-CoV-2.” infections.
“This is not to say that every nonprofit initiative has been effective everywhere, or at all times, but learning lessons from the wealth of research resulting from this pandemic will be key to preparing ourselves for the next.”
The review found that social distancing and lockdowns were the most effective category of NPIs. Time and time again, stay-at-home orders, physical distancing, and restrictions on gathering size have been found to be associated with a significant decrease in transmission of Sars-CoV-2. Experts found that the stricter the measures, the greater their impact.
In care homes, measures such as congregation and visitor restrictions have been associated with lower transmission and lower outbreaks.
Additionally, the report found that in schools, closures and other social distancing measures were associated with reduced cases of COVID-19, but effectiveness varied depending on a range of factors, including adherence and the ages of pupils.
When looking at the use of face masks and mask mandates, studies have consistently reported that the measures were an effective approach to reducing infection. Evidence also suggests that high-quality respirator masks – such as N95 masks – were more effective than surgical masks.
Test-Trace-Isolation evaluation studies conducted in several countries that implemented high levels of contact tracing, while isolating infected individuals and their contacts, found a reduction in COVID-19 deaths.
For the future, the report recommends establishing international protocols for clinical trials and surveillance research on NPIs before more epidemics occur.
Professor Christopher Day, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said: “The next thing is Disease X as the World Health Organization has called it.
“We don’t know what it will be, we don’t know where it will appear. So we need a system that is general enough to deal with anything of this nature, and for me, the number one priority is to have a global surveillance response system.
“We can’t say for sure, and we won’t try, what can be done,” said Professor Christel Donnelly, chair of the department, professor of applied statistics at the University of Oxford and professor of statistical epidemiology at Imperial College London. In the future. But we can describe the effects of what happened with the coronavirus, and that will inform the decision-making process, but of course, in the event of a future pandemic, more data will need to be collected.
The report brings together the findings of six expert-led reviews of evidence, published in a special issue of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions A.
The reviews looked at thousands of published studies, and identified papers that were suitably robust for inclusion in each review category.