Social distancing effective against COVID-19

Combined social distancing measures, including working from home, self-isolation and community contact reduction are highly effective in reducing the number of COVID-19, a new study reveals.

Using computer modelling to evaluate a range of social distancing measures, the study published today in MedRxiv by the University of Western Australia (UWA), shows that the two most effective social distancing measures are self-isolation and a 70 per cent reduction in community-wide contact (defined as any social contact outside of school, work or home).

Interestingly, according to lead researcher, Professor George Milne from UWA’s School of Computer Science and Software Engineering, the modelling suggests that school closure was the least effective single social distancing measure.

“[School closure’s] moderate effectiveness arises from our assumption that children still have contact with the wider community when schools are closed,” Professor Milne explains.

“This suggests that combining school closure with even a 30 per cent reduction in community-wide contact will be significantly more effective.”

Commenting on the study, Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, from the Centre of International Security Studies at the University of Sydney says: “To be effective, school closures must be accompanied by other, more stringent measures so that children are not interacting in other venues.”

While Professor Robert Booy, a researcher in child and adolescent health from the Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead adds: “Given the situation we currently face, it would have been helpful to separate school closures from the other three measures to clarify this issue.

“The halfway measure we currently have in place, where around half of Aussie kids are at school and half are at home, may actually turn out to be the most protective.”

Professor Milne echoes the warning that the ability of countries to contain and control the transmission of COVID-19 is critical in the absence of a vaccine.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic develops, more subtle strategies will need to be evaluated, such as the phased introduction of additional measures if it is found that existing strategies are ineffective in reducing daily case numbers.”