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The current pandemic of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is unparalleled in recent history as are the social distancing interventions that have led to a considerable halt on the economic and social life of so many countries.


We aimed to generate empirical evidence about which social distancing measures had the most impact in reducing case counts and mortality.


We report a quasi-experimental (observational) study of the impact of various interventions for control of the outbreak through 24 April 2020. Chronological data on case numbers and deaths were taken from the daily published figures by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and dates of initiation of various control strategies from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation website and published sources. Our complementary analyses were modelled in R using Bayesian generalised additive mixed models and in STATA using multilevel mixed-effects regression models.


From both sets of modelling, we found that closure of education facilities, prohibiting mass gatherings and closure of some non-essential businesses were associated with reduced incidence whereas stay-at-home orders and closure of additional non-essential businesses was not associated with any independent additional impact.


Our findings are that schools and some non-essential businesses operating ‘as normal’ as well as allowing mass gatherings were incompatible with suppressing disease spread. Closure of all businesses and stay at home orders are less likely to be required to keep disease incidence low. Our results help identify what were the most effective non-pharmaceutical interventions in this period.


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