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Precautionary Breaks: planned, limited duration circuit breaks to control the prevalence of COVID-19

++ All Warwick authors are unavailable for interviews this morning but will be taking part in and answering questions during a press briefing hosted by the Science Media Centre at 2.00pm this afternoon (14th October). If you wish to attend, please email Tom Frew (

Cases of COVID-19 are rising exponentially in almost all regions of the country, with some areas experiencing extremely high levels of infection - new research involving University of Warwick researchers has found.

Against this backdrop of rising cases, our paper examines the impact of a short 2-week period of intense control. In the paper we time this to coincide with the October half-term to minimise any disruption to education.

  • To read the paper, Precautionary breaks: planned, limited duration circuit breaks to control the prevalence of COVID-19, please click here.

Using two different modelling approaches we show that a short, sharp 2-week break leads to a decline in cases, with similar declines in hospitalisation and mortality over a short period - this could potentially reduce the acute load on the NHS enabling it to continue non-COVID care into the winter months.

To save lives over longer time scales requires driving R below one.

A precautionary break is not a lasting control measure, but effectively buys more time to put other controls in place; it takes us ‘back to a time when cases were lower’.

The reduction in cases also allows measures which are resource limited (such as test-trace-and-isolate) to potentially have a greater impact.

While such precautionary breaks are potentially powerful tools, three important questions remain:

1) Does a pre-planned short duration break have a less harmful impact on the economy and society?

2) Will the general public support, and abide by, another period of tighter controls?

3) What action will be taken after the break to ensure that we do not return to the same situation?

Although there are numbers in the preprint it is not correct to say that we are forecasting specific numbers of lives that would be saved; the worst-case scenarios would never be allowed to continue without intervention.

The authors are:

Matt J. Keeling1, Glen Guyver-Fletcher1,2, Alex Holmes1,3, Louise Dyson1, Michael J. Tildesley1, Edward M. Hill1, Graham F. Medley4

1 The Zeeman Institute for Systems Biology & Infectious Disease Epidemiology Research, School of Life Sciences and Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom.

2 Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership, School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom.

3 Mathematics for Real World Systems Centre for Doctoral Training, Mathematics Institute,

University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL, United Kingdom.

4 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel St, Bloomsbury, London WC1E 7HT, United Kingdom.



Tom Frew, Senior Press and Media Relations Manager – University of Warwick:

M: +44(0)7785433155