A study published in The Lancet medical journal Thursday warns that relaxing the quarantine measures in the Chinese city of Wuhan – the first epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak – too soon could result in a second wave of coronavirus cases.
“Restrictions on activities in Wuhan, if maintained until April, would probably help to delay the epidemic peak. Our projections suggest that premature and sudden lifting of interventions could lead to an earlier secondary peak, which could be flattened by relaxing the interventions gradually,” the study reads.
The study’s findings were based on mathematical modeling which simulated potential COVID-19 outbreaks in Wuhan under various scenarios.
“The unprecedented measures the city of Wuhan has put in place to reduce social contacts in school and the workplace have helped to control the outbreak,” said lead author Kiesha Prem of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the UK. “However, the city now needs to be really careful to avoid prematurely lifting physical distancing measures, because that could lead to an earlier secondary peak in cases. But if they relax the restrictions gradually, this is likely to both delay and flatten the peak.”
Huge crowds of people crammed trains and buses in Hubei province – of which Wuhan is the capital – on Wednesday as travel restrictions were lifted following a strict, two-month lockdown. The lockdown in Wuhan will end in around two weeks, the provincial government also announced on Tuesday. The Chinese National Health Commission on Wednesday also reported that there were 147 new cases of people being infected with the coronavirus overseas and traveling back to China with the infection, bringing the total current number of imported infections in China to at least 474.
Even though the study’s models were based on China, the conclusions are most likely applicable to other countries, the researchers noted.
Tim Colbourn, an epidemiologist from University College London who was not involved in the study, said the findings could be used to help governments to determine how to lift lockdowns.
“Given many countries with mounting epidemics now potentially face the first phase of lockdown, safe ways out of the situation must be identified,” he said, the Guardian reported.