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State and Civic Efforts Helped Save at Least 80,000 Lives in Russia During the Pandemic, HSE Experts Say

Moscow, May 2, 2020

Moscow, May 2, 2020
© iStock

In a study, ‘How Many Deaths from COVID-19 Were Avoided by Russian Society’, experts from HSE University found that the restrictive measures taken by the Russian government and its citizens to combat the spread of the virus saved the lives of tens of thousands of Russians.

Experts at HSE University calculated the difference between the projected number of deaths (with and without restrictions) and the actual mortality rate between March 1 and June 24. The study takes into account official information on the number of coronavirus-caused deaths, as well as information on the deaths of people for whom COVID-19 was recorded as a concomitant cause of death.

The researchers used two methodological approaches: an estimation based on a logistic equation (the exponential increase in cases without governmental measures or changes in citizen behavior) and an epidemiological (SEIR) model with an adjusted reproduction index (R0) that accounts for changes in citizen behavior and preventive measures instituted by authorities.

The study shows that in contemporary society, three groups of factors can be distinguished that limit the spread of the disease and prevent mortality.

The first group of factors occurs directly at the level of society. The only role the government plays here is in promptly providing updated information to citizens, who then independently take preventive actions (such as self-isolating, minimizing their external contacts, abstaining from social, business and cultural activities that require them to interact with large groups of people, and adopting practices of increased personal hygiene). Employers also enact preventive measures, such as transferring employees to a remote work format, providing paid leave, furloughing employees, restricting office hours, sanitizing work spaces, monitoring the health of workers and/or customers, and suspending operations.

© iStock

The second group of factors are linked with governmental policy. This includes instituting restrictions on business operations and the isolation of citizens, sanitary control, restrictions and prohibition of the movement of people, economic support for enterprises and citizens, stimulation of production, direct ordering of sanitary goods and services to ensure their availability, and the organization of necessary import purchases. The goal is to ensure that citizens and organizations are able to comply with restrictive regulations.

Finally, the third group of factors is connected with measures taken by the medical industry to diagnose and treat patients and identify as well as isolate those who have come into contact with carriers of the disease.

According to their model, HSE experts say, if the government and citizens had completely ignored the outbreak and not taken any measures to prevent the spread of the disease (which would have led to an exponential increase in cases), the number of additional deaths during the analyzed period could have reached 3.8 million. Their calculations also drew upon results of a study published in Nature (Hsiang S., et al., ‘The Effect of Large-Scale Anti-Contagion Policies on the COVID-19 Pandemic’, Nature, May 26, 2020). The study by Hsiang, et al. shows that for six countries (China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the United States), anti-contagion measures helped prevent 62 million cases of COVID-19.

According to the HSE researchers, an epidemiological SEIR model with an adjusted reproduction index (R0) that takes into account changes in the behavior of authorities and citizens is more realistic. Calculations using this methodology showed that measures taken by the government—i.e., measures related to sanitation, medicine, the economy, and prompt communication with citizens—as well as citizen behavior, such as social distancing, self-isolation, using personal protective equipment, and measures taken by employers, such as transferring workers to remote work, testing workers, and providing workers with protective equipment, collectively helped save the lives of at least 80,000 Russians.

According to study co-author Andrey Zhulin, HSE Vice Rector and Director of the HSE Office for Expert Analysis, modern society is a complex self-organizing organism, in which most people are well educated and able to quickly learn and adapt to new circumstances. The timely receipt of information about the threat allows society to promptly put protective mechanisms in place.

‘Saved lives are the result of regulatory measures by the authorities and responsible citizen behavior,’ says Andrey Zhulin. ‘And it is impossible to reliably separate these effects.’

The authors of the HSE study noted that their estimates are preliminary and emphasized that they were obtained with current data, which is limited. The researchers will continue to further develop and refine the results.

Study authors: Evgeny Andreev, Head, International Laboratory for Population and Health, HSE University; Vasily Vlasov, Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, HSE University; Andrey Zhulin, HSE Vice Rector, Director, Office for Expert Analysis, HSE University; Marcel Salikhov, Research Fellow, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, HSE University; Sergey Shishkin, Professor, Director of the Centre for Health Policy, Head of the Programme in Health Care Administration and Economics, HSE University.

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