UBC Faculty Research and Publications

How much leeway is there to relax COVID-19 control measures? Anderson, Sean C.; Mulberry, Nicola; Edwards, Andrew M.; Stockdale, Jessica E.; Iyaniwura, Sarafa; Falcao, Rebeca Cardim; Otterstatter, Michael; Janjua, Naveed; Coombs, Daniel; Colijn, Caroline


Following successful non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) aiming to control COVID-19, many jurisdictions reopened their economies and borders. As little immunity had developed in most populations, re-establishing higher contact carried substantial risks, and therefore many locations began to see resurgence in COVID19 cases. We present a Bayesian method to estimate the leeway to reopen, or alternatively the strength of change required to re-establish COVID-19 control, in a range of jurisdictions experiencing different COVID-19 epidemics. We estimated the timing and strength of initial control measures such as widespread distancing and compared the leeway jurisdictions had to reopen immediately after NPI measures to later estimates of leeway. Finally, we quantified risks associated with reopening and the likely burden of new cases due to introductions from other jurisdictions. We found widely varying leeway to reopen. After initial NPI measures took effect, some jurisdictions had substantial leeway (e.g., Japan, New Zealand, Germany) with > 0.99 probability that contact rates were below 80% of the threshold for epidemic growth. Others had little leeway (e.g., the United Kingdom, Washington State) and some had none (e.g., Sweden, California). For most such regions, increases in contact rate of 1.5–2 fold would have had high (> 0.7) probability of exceeding past peak sizes. Most jurisdictions experienced June–August trajectories consistent with our projections of contact rate increases of 1–2-fold. Under such relaxation scenarios for some regions, we projected up to ∼100 additional cases if just one case were imported per week over six weeks, even between jurisdictions with comparable COVID-19 risk. We provide an R package covidseir to enable jurisdictions to estimate leeway and forecast cases under different future contact patterns. Estimates of leeway can establish a quantitative basis for decisions about reopening. We recommend a cautious approach to reopening economies and borders, coupled with strong monitoring for changes in transmission.

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