Closing schools and preventing mass gatherings may be more effective than trying to quarantine patients infected with the coronavirus (Covid-19), says an industry expert.

Bishal Bhandari, senior epidemiologist at analytics company GlobalData, said governments should consider a strategy of mitigation to help slow the spread of infections, and reduce the severity of the outbreak.

Targeting a reduction of mass gatherings may be especially effective in countries where cities and towns cannot be locked down, and complete movement bans are impossible.

Bhandari added: “Travel restriction from outbreak countries might not be as an effective strategy as it was when the infection was still localised.

“Tracking who has travelled where from multiple international locations will be extremely difficult.

“Travel out of Italy, Korea and Iran had not been restricted in the days before the concerning reports of new infections, and it is likely that people have carried the virus out of those areas already.

“Indeed, more than 14 countries have already reported cases exported from Italy.”


Time to move away from coronavirus quarantines?

So far, the main strategy to battle the coronavirus spread has been one of containment, which involves quarantining those infected in outbreak areas.

The most severe travel restrictions up to now have been seen within China. The city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December 2019, has been in lockdown for several weeks.

Many countries have also started quarantining all travellers arriving from parts of Eastern Asia, high-risk nations in the Middle East — such as Iran — and northern Italy.

But with nearly 100,000 confirmed cases worldwide, about 90 countries reporting infections, and multiple clusters outside of mainland China, the coronavirus outbreak is now approaching global pandemic status.

coronavirus quarantine who
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, has described the coronavirus outbreak as “uncharted territory” (Credit: MONUSCO photos)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently described the viral outbreak as “uncharted territory” for global health bodies.

With thousands of cases in South Korea, Iran and Italy, and hundreds more in Japan, France, Germany, UK and US, quarantine may no longer be the best approach to limit further outbreaks — according to GlobalData.

Mitigation measures — as well as “bolstering” health systems across the world to improve early detection and care for infected patients — could prove more effective in reducing the rate of new cases and deaths.

Such measures have already been seen to some extent in northern Italy, where many schools have been closed, and employers have increasingly told staff to work from home if possible.

Several sporting events have also been hit — with the Italian men’s and Women’s RBS Six Nations matches with England on 14 and 15 March being postponed, and all Serie A football games set to be played behind closed doors until April.