More than 100,000 people could have died from coronavirus in Britain if ministers didn’t tell people to stay at home, research suggests.
Dozens of countries have been forced to tell people to stay home and close shops in a bid to stop the Covid-19 pandemic.
Scientists in California have now estimated how stay-at-home policies curbed death tolls across the US.
They claimed deaths would have been twice as high had officials not introduced the drastic policies to control spiralling coronavirus outbreaks.
Under the same maths, it would suggest that Britain – which adopted blanket stay-at-home guidance during the darkest days of the crisis – would have had up to 105,300 victims.
Department of Health figures show the current laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 death toll stands at 46,413. Other statistical estimates say the number of victims is around the 65,000 mark.
To look at the effects of the stay-at-home mandates in US states, the researchers collected data on mobility and how it had dropped since Covid-19 arrived.
The data came from Unacast, which receives location data from millions of mobile devices through apps, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections.
The experts estimated changes in travel activity and social distancing ‘per square kilometer by day and by state’, relative to what it was pre-Covid-19.
They also looked at how these things changed when the ‘stay at home order’ was implemented by each state – some earlier than others.
After lockdowns, the team estimated travel reduced by seven percentage points, visits to non-essential businesses by 2.1, and human interactions by 3.5.
All these estimations were compared with rates of hospitalisations and deaths due to Covid-19 per state per day.
This came from the COVID Tracking Project (CVT), considered the most up-to-date and reliable log of hospital activity in America during the pandemic.
The study period only covered the period of March and April – the first couple of months Covid-19 spread in the US and UK.
The findings show lockdowns led to 0.13 to 0.16 fewer deaths per day per 100,000 people – around 48 per cent lower had it not come into place.
Across 43 states that adopted the ‘stay at home message’, this represented 23,300 to 30,100 fewer deaths and roughly one million averted hospitalisations.
For the average state with a population of 6.8million, the models predicts some 543 to 701 deaths were averted during the two-month period.
Considering the death toll over these states was 55,922 by the end of April, it suggests the death toll for the first wave would have been 1.86 to 2.27 times higher than what it would have been without the measures.
Add in the effects of social distancing and less travel before lockdowns were imposed, an estimated 48,000 to 71,000 deaths were averted in total, the researchers said.
But applying the findings to the whole of the US, which had 62,547 deaths by the end of April, it suggests even more lives could have been saved.
The death toll could have reached 116,300 to 142,000, the findings suggest.
The US death toll is now 161,729 – the highest in the world. But had Americans never been told to ‘stay at home’, the findings suggest Covid-19 could have killed up to 367,000 by now.
A handful of more rural states — Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — governors held off on imposing stay-at-home orders. California was the first state to adopt the policy in mid-March.
Meanwhile in the UK, all citizens were told by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ‘stay at home’ on March 23. This was changed in May to ‘stay alert’ as lockdown measurements were slowly lifted.
Applying the researchers’ findings to the UK, it means the death toll could have been twice as high as what it was at the end of April.
By April 30, the Covid-19 death toll was 26,771 – but it could have as bad as 49,700 to 60,600.
The current UK death toll currently sits around that region, statistics show.
While the Department of Health count some 46,000 deaths across the four nations based on positive Covid-19 tests, statistical bodies count around 65,000 based on death certificates.
Therefore, to this point, some 105,300 people could have died – an additional 59,000 lives, based on the paper’s claims for the US.
However, the mobility data and hospitalisations and deaths due to Covid-19 would have been different to the US, so it is not clear how well the model fits the UK.
The authors of the paper, led by James Sears, a PhD candidate at University of California, wrote: ‘Our estimates suggest that residents subject to stay-at-home mandates on average responded as desired to curb the spread of COVID-19.
‘Our results provide preliminary evidence that the changes in social distancing and travel behavior induced by statewide mandates likely played an important role in flattening COVID-19 epidemic curves in adopting states.’
The paper was published on the website MedRxiv, meaning it has not been reviewed by other scientists yet.
Some scientists do not believe that lockdown had any affect on the number of Covid-19 fatalities.
A recent study claimed whether a country was locked down or not was ‘not associated’ with death rate.
But other scientists have been adamant the lockdown was necessary, and was so important it should have been enforced in Britain weeks before it was on March 23.
Professor Neil Ferguson – the academic whose work led to Britain’s lockdown – says the lockdown likely saved almost half a million lives in the UK alone.
His team at Imperial University in London found coronavirus lockdowns across Europe probably prevented up to three million Covid-related deaths.
‘Professor Lockdown’ has also conceded that, in hindsight, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved if the lockdown had come a week earlier.
A separate study also published in June suggested around 500million Covid-19 cases were prevented by lockdowns in six countries, including the US.