Experts question whether COVID-19 curfews work. But France may have had some luck

Experts question whether COVID-19 curfews work. But France may have had some luck

When France brought in a curfew, the accelerating spread of COVID-19 slowed in people over 60, study suggests

As Quebec becomes the first province to implement a curfew to help curb the spread of COVID-19, there isn’t clear consensus whether similar efforts around the world have had much of an effect.

Quebec’s 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew went into effect this weekend and is scheduled to last until Feb. 8, meaning many of the province’s residents will be prohibited from going outside at night. Those caught outside without a valid reason could face a fine of between $1,000 and $6,000.

The province is following in the footsteps of other jurisdictions that have implemented similar curfews. Spain, Italy, Switzerland and France have all put in nation-wide curfews, and this weekend, 15 zones of France will have even earlier restrictions, beginning at 6 p.m. and lasting until 6 a.m.

Despite the widespread use of curfews, some health experts have challenged what they actually do to fight COVID-19

«I don’t think there is any strong evidence that that kind of approach works,» said Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

However, researchers in France have found data suggesting it has worked to slow spread there — at least for some age groups.

Starting Saturday, Quebec is under curfew for the next four weeks, though there are some exceptions, including for dog walkers. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Curfews associated with slowing spread

A team of French researchers looked into three waves of the French government’s health policy measures to combat COVID-19.

Starting Oct. 17, 16 of France’s zones known as départements were put under curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The following week, 38 were added, so more than half the country was under mandatory curfew from October 23 onwards.

Finally, starting on October 30, a nation-wide lockdown was implemented.

The researchers found that the curfew was able to reduce the acceleration of the pandemic, but the strongest effect was only for people who were 60 and older.

For people younger than 60, it was the subsequent lockdown that did more to curb the spread.

«This suggests that if health policies aim at protecting the elderly population generally more at risk to suffer severe consequences from COVID-19, curfew measures may be most effective,» according to the study, which was released in November on SSRN, a pre-print server.

Patrick Pintus, an economics professor at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, who was one of the researchers, acknowledged this was not a controlled experiment, that the results can only show correllation, not cause-and-effect.

«But what we found was that, especially the first week of the curfew, did seem to have an effect in terms of curbing the pandemic in the sense [of] reducing the acceleration,» he said.

«Our interpretation is that it’s probably due to the fact that because of the curfew, there were much less interactions between that age group in bars, in the restaurants.»

 

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