March 10, 2020 / 9:57 AM / a month ago

Italy's coronavirus lockdown likely unsustainable, ineffective

A military officer is seen on Duomo square after a decree orders for the whole of Italy to be on lockdown in an unprecedented clampdown aimed at beating the coronavirus, in Milan, Italy, March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

LONDON (Reuters) - Infectious disease and public health experts doubt the viability of plans by Italy’s government to extend quarantine measures across the entire country, saying they are probably unsustainable, and unlikely to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Here of some of their views:

- “Such restrictions have the potential to place an enormous economic burden on the country - and if it goes on too long, (could) create the risk of a kind of restriction fatigue,” said Rowland Kao, a professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at Britain’s University of Edinburgh.

- John Edmunds, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said the measures were unprecedented and “almost certainly unsustainable”.

“This will be a long epidemic and the appropriate measures need to be taken at the right time to maximize their impact, help ensure compliance and minimize economic and social costs,” he said. “These measures will probably have a short-term impact. However, if they can’t be sustained for the long term, all they are likely to do is delay the epidemic for a while.”

- Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the proposed lockdown would be “one of the most rigorous country-wide control measures implemented in the last 50 years”.

“Whilst we have seen in Wuhan that such intensive social distancing can bring the epidemic under control, it is far from clear how long this may need to be maintained in the Italian context,” he said.

- “The objective of these measures is to control the epidemic and ensure hospitals can cope with the number of patients they have to treat. The potential benefits are obvious, though such measures will come at a great cost to individuals, communities and the economy,” said Francois Balloux, a professor of computational systems biology at University College London. “It is also not sustainable to maintain such a nationwide lockdown for very long.”

Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Nick Macfie

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