August 4, 2021
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supplies arrive at the Pisa International Airport in Italy, on January 12.

How major European countries are progressing with their vaccine rollouts

Restaurants and shops are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic on October 28, 2020, in Madrid, Spain. Oscar J. Barroso/AFP7/Getty Images

Quicker, more stringent pandemic policies likely saved tens of thousands of lives in certain European countries, researchers reported Tuesday.

And they did not necessarily need to impose all-out lockdowns.

A review led by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that when countries imposed mitigation measures earlier last spring, they had less spread of coronavirus and fewer deaths. 

“Countries that implemented stringent policies earlier might have saved several thousand lives relative to those countries that implemented similar policies, but later. Earlier implementation of mitigation policies, even by just a few weeks, might be an important strategy to reduce the number of deaths from Covid-19,” the team of researchers wrote in the CDC’s weekly report, the MMWR.

Early measures included: canceling public events, school closures, restrictions on gathering and internal travel, workplace closures, border closures, public transport closures, recommendations to stay at home, and stay-at-home orders. Mask requirements were not included, according to the report.

The CDC team reviewed policies in 37 European countries and used them to create an index. Those with a higher index — indicating either more policies, or stricter implementation of policies — had fewer deaths per capita.

“Earlier implementation of stringent mitigation policies, even by just a few weeks, appears to be important to prevent widespread Covid-19 transmission and reduce the number of deaths,” the team wrote.

More lives could have been saved: Britain could have averted 22,776 deaths had mitigation measures been put into place earlier, the team calculated. France could have prevented more than 13,000 deaths, and Spain could have averted 9,300 fatalities.

The team said many policies were put in place at the same time so they could not say if any particular policies worked best.