Shorter, more frequent lockdowns could lead to fewer COVID-19 cases, study finds
TORONTO -- A new study out of Toronto suggests that shorter, but more frequent lockdowns, could lead to fewer cases of COVID-19.
The study, conducted by researchers at York University in Toronto, found that Ontario's current practice of initiating lockdowns for longer periods of time may actually decrease public compliance with these restrictions.
Using a model that reacts to "realistic social dynamics," including compliance with physical distancing and self-isolation, researchers reported that social fatigue and individual costs can "diminish the effectiveness of lockdowns and lead to worse health outcomes."
Researchers reported that the individual cost of lockdowns not only includes financial loss, but also the psychological burden of staying home. They noted that these costs can increase with each lockdown.
The study was published Wednesday in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Royal Society Open Science.
Iain Moyles, lead researcher and York University assistant professor, told CTV New Channel on Thursday that the study is about weighing risks.
"What we introduced is this idea of behaviour, and why we did that is because as many of us know, COVID has quite an asymptomatic spread so what that means is people have to make decisions about their health and their contact reduction, whether they know they're sick or not," Moyles explained.
Moyles said the study’s model considers individual decisions around the personal cost of complying with public health restrictions in relation to the progression of COVID-19 case numbers.
"What we found is that as these restrictions prolong, those extra costs and risks start to outweigh the risk of getting sick and so people begin to relax, and so it's not that surprising to see that some of these effects are starting to wane," Moyles said.
While the study acknowledges that government modelling data for COVID-19 factors into account "larger economic influence," the researchers say they do not include "smaller individual economic choices."
The study noted that shutdowns need to be "optimized" by taking into account individual costs of lockdowns to reduce COVID-19 infections.
"Improving this aspect of modelling, could ensure policies are put into place at the right time so people will react accordingly. It could also play an important role in limiting the impact on health-care services, as well as delaying the outbreak peak time and reducing the outbreak duration," the study's authors wrote.
The researchers explained that having shorter lockdowns provides less time for the individual's financial and psychological cost to grow.
Moyles said in a press release issued Wednesday that the findings suggest governments need to take into account "more realistic policy strategies for disease mitigation and mortality prevention" when issuing restrictions.
"Understanding how people will react to a change in policy regarding lockdowns or bans on social gatherings will inform how and when to enact social measures for maximum effectiveness. This is essential in gauging the impact that COVID-19 and mitigation strategies will have on infections and mortality," Moyles said.