Skip to Content
Biotechnology and health

Lockdowns may have prevented more than 3 million deaths in Europe

A sign saying a park is closed due to the pandemic
Queven | Pixabay

The news: Lockdowns in Europe helped stop 3.1 million deaths up to the start of May, researchers have estimated. Strictly limiting people’s movements and enforcing social distancing cut the average number of people that contagious individuals infected by 81%. The measures pushed the epidemic’s reproduction number, R, down from 3.8 to below 1 in all 11 European countries they studied, including Germany, France, Spain, the UK, and Italy, thus drastically curbing transmission. The calculations by the team from Imperial College London are set out in a paper in Nature this week.

How it was worked out: The team combined data on covid-19 deaths from each of the 11 countries and worked backwards to figure out how much transmission had occurred in the weeks running up to May 4. They estimated that between 12 million and 15 million people had become infected up to that point, causing almost 130,000 deaths. They then compared these figures with a model assuming that no interventions had been made at all. An estimated 3.1 million deaths across the continent were averted, the model suggested. France’s lockdown was estimated to have prevented the most deaths: roughly 690,000. Instead, there were about 23,000.

What it means: In short, the lockdowns worked. Measures like social distancing, staying indoors, and avoiding seeing family and friends have been effective at reducing transmission of the virus, and thus saving a vast number of lives. However, the fact that relatively small numbers of people in Europe have had the virus—and that we still don’t know if it confers immunity to people who have recovered—suggests it won’t be possible to fully lift lockdowns for a long time.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology and health

Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.

Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.

This baby with a head camera helped teach an AI how kids learn language

A neural network trained on the experiences of a single young child managed to learn one of the core components of language: how to match words to the objects they represent.

The first gene-editing treatment: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024

Sickle-cell disease is the first illness to be beaten by CRISPR, but the new treatment comes with an expected price tag of $2 to $3 million.

We’ve never understood how hunger works. That might be about to change.

Scientists have spent decades trying to unravel the intricate mysteries of the human appetite. Are they on the verge of finally determining how this basic drive functions?

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.