It was on 9 March that Italy announced a nation-wide quarantine -- the first European country to do so. Just a few days later, Spain, France, and Germany followed suit. Now, the results might be finally showing up.
Strict lockdowns seem to work at curbing the coronavirus
It's a long-fought battle and it's still just beginning -- but the first positive signs are emerging from Europe. Some of the countries with the largest number of confirmed infections (Spain, Italy, and Germany) have seemingly stabilized the situation.
Simply put, the number of new cases seems to have stabilized or is decreasing. This doesn't mean that things are under control, nor is it a guarantee that everything will get better from now on -- but it does suggest that quarantine is working.
It's important to keep in mind that this is not the number of real cases -- just the number of confirmed cases. A drop or surge in cases might be affected by the number of tests.
All data is gathered on 31.03.2020.
Italy: 21 days since quarantine imposed
The first hopes that Italy's number of new cases had peaked emerged on the 22nd of March. But the number of new cases seemed to stabilize and even grow in some days -- although it never truly reached the apex.
It took 3 weeks after the quarantine was first imposed for the number of cases to trend downwards again.
Again, this is purely a curve based on what is tested and confirmed, and might not be representative of the real situation.
Spain: 14 days since quarantine imposed
The evolution of cases follows a similar trend as in Italy. The total number of new cases per day seemed to reach a peak and then start dropping, but it stabilized at the apex for a few days.
This timeline is not coincident: it fits well with the calculated incubation period of the virus. Essentially, even if you impose a quarantine today, you will still have a large number of cases because many people are infected and don't yet know it. After these cases manifest (which can be expected to take upward of 2 weeks), researchers expect to see a steady drop in the number of new cases.
"We should start to see stabilization, because the cases we see today really reflect exposures two weeks ago," Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Program, said at a daily briefing.
Germany <14 days since quarantine imposed
Germany's case is less clear, but also perhaps more interesting. The quarantine in Germany was imposed a couple of days after the one in Spain, but the results seem to be showing faster.
Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany’s Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Tuesday that he is optimistic about flattening the curve, adding that things will become much clearer after Easter.
However, Wieler also cautioned that fatalities lag after the number of infections, and the number of fatalities is expected to peak several days after the infection curve has flattened.
It's still very early days and it's impossible to draw any clear conclusions. However, if the reported data is any indication, it seems that around 2-3 weeks after national quarantine is imposed, the number of cases peaks and (hopefully) starts to decline.
There are multiple factors that can be misleading or can cause us to misinterpret the data. Yet, this changing tide -- if this is indeed what we are seeing -- is very significant.
For one it offers an approximate timeline for other countries to expect, and it also helps policymakers prepare for the long-term COVID-19 battle. A tight quarantine is very difficult to enforce in the long run -- not just because people get restless, but also because many don't have the resources to simply stay home and not work.
Yesterday, ZME Science reported on a new study by British researchers at Imperial College London that found ass many as 60,000 lives in 11 European countries have been saved thus far thanks to strict quarantine measures.
It's still an ongoing situation where things can change day by day, but from what we can see now, 2-3 weeks of quarantine seems like a realistic timeframe to reach the peak.
From there on, it remains to be seen how quickly the number of new cases decreases, and what countries will do to avoid a second-wave of infections.