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Pupils wait in line to get their meals at Shaanxi Normal University Jinyuan Primary School in Xian, Shaanxi province, on Monday, when students in grades 4-6 returned to school. Photo: Xinhua

China’s strict lockdown and closed schools saved rush on hospitals during coronavirus outbreak, researchers say

  • Study into non-pharmaceutical interventions finds closing schools will not stop all transmission but will reduce admission peak 40-60 per cent
  • Shanghai and Wuhan households reduced contact with other people 7-8 times, curbing chance of transmission
Strict Chinese-style social distancing is enough to control Covid-19 and closing schools delayed the epidemic in China, according to a new study published in the journal Science on Wednesday.
The study comes at a time when China is slowly easing its nationwide limitations on movement but other countries, such as the United States, now the leading carrier of the disease, are still fiercely debating lockdown measures.
A team of scientists, led by Zhang Juanjuan of the school of public health at Fudan University in Shanghai, and including researchers from China, the US and Italy, surveyed residents in the Chinese cities of Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the virus, and Shanghai about their daily contacts with other people.

The researchers were looking at non-pharmaceutical prevention and found that lockdown measures in the two cities reduced daily contact by 7-8 times, containing contact to household interactions and drastically reducing virus transmission.

The scientists modelled pre- and post-outbreak behaviour patterns of more than 1,000 people in Shanghai and Wuhan, mapping them by age.

Models of interaction during the lockdown period, based on survey data taken on February 1-10, showed that nearly all interactions in both cities took place within the home – 94.1 per cent in Wuhan and 78.5 per cent in Shanghai.

The authors examined the effects of school closures on transmission and found that they could reduce peak incidence of Covid-19 by 40 to 60 per cent and delay the epidemic.

China closed its schools for months beginning in early February and has since allowed localities to chose when to begin the gradual reopening of schools.

In Europe, Germany will gradually begin to open schools on May 4, while France plans to reopen schools on May 11, and Italy will keep schools closed until September.

CNN reported last week that 43 of the 50 US states had ordered schools to shut their doors, though President Donald Trump said state governments should “seriously reconsider” reopening, in remarks made to US media on Monday.

School closures alone, however, could not completely interrupt all transmission, the Chinese study showed, but keeping students at home could help ease surges at hospitals.

“We find that social distancing alone, as implemented in China during the outbreak, is sufficient to control Covid-19,” the researchers wrote in Science.


The study also found that children aged under 14 were less susceptible to the disease than those between 15-64 years, and people aged 65 and older were even more susceptible to infection than both younger age groups.

The authors called for greater research into other non-pharmaceutical control measures, such as limitations on workplaces, to better understand disease prevention.


China’s lockdown measures have begun to slowly ease after the number of new daily cases in the country of 1.4 billion has slowed.

The capital of Beijing lowered its emergency response by one level on Wednesday, and lifted the 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers returning to Beijing from low-risk areas in China.

In the US, congressional leaders are locked in a debate over whether to lift lockdown measures, with Republicans arguing for an end, while Democrats are more cautious.


Senate Republicans plan to return to Washington next week, while Republican governors in Texas, Florida and Georgia have reopened their states for business.

Democrats in the US lower legislature, the House of Representatives, reversed plans to return to Washington on Tuesday.

US billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk called lockdown measures “fascist” on social media on Wednesday.


Meanwhile, President Donald Trump ordered US meat processors to remain open, while US meat packing United Food and Commercial Workers union rebuffed the call, saying at least 20 meat packing workers had died of the disease, and thousands had tested positive for Covid-19.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China lockdown ‘success’