Buying Time for an Effective Epidemic Response: The Impact of a Public Holiday for Outbreak Control on COVID-19 Epidemic Spread

Simiao Chen, Qiushi Chen, Weizhong Yang, Lan Xue, Yuanli Liu, Juntao Yang, Chen Wang, Till Bärnighausen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Rapid responses in the early stage of a new epidemic are crucial in outbreak control. Public holidays for outbreak control could provide a critical time window for a rapid rollout of social distancing and other control measures at a large population scale. The objective of our study was to explore the impact of the timing and duration of outbreak-control holidays on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) epidemic spread during the early stage in China. We developed a compartment model to simulate the dynamic transmission of COVID-19 in China starting from January 2020. We projected and compared epidemic trajectories with and without an outbreak-control holiday that started during the Chinese Lunar New Year. We considered multiple scenarios of the outbreak-control holiday with different durations and starting times, and under different assumptions about viral transmission rates. We estimated the delays in days to reach certain thresholds of infections under different scenarios. Our results show that the outbreak-control holiday in China likely stalled the spread of COVID-19 for several days. The base case outbreak-control holiday (21 d for Hubei Province and 10 d for all other provinces) delayed the time to reach 100 000 confirmed infections by 7.54 d. A longer outbreak-control holiday would have had stronger effects. A nationwide outbreak-control holiday of 21 d would have delayed the time to 100 000 confirmed infections by nearly 10 d. Furthermore, we find that outbreak-control holidays that start earlier in the course of a new epidemic are more effective in stalling epidemic spread than later holidays and that additional control measures during the holidays can boost the holiday effect. In conclusion, an outbreak-control holiday can likely effectively delay the transmission of epidemics that spread through social contacts. The temporary delay in the epidemic trajectory buys time, which scientists can use to discover transmission routes and identify effective public health interventions and which governments can use to build physical infrastructure, organize medical supplies, and deploy human resources for long-term epidemic mitigation and control efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1108-1114
Number of pages7
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science
  • Environmental Engineering
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Materials Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • General Engineering


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