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During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have implemented physical distancing measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2.


To measure the actual reduction of contacts when physical distancing measures are implemented.


A cross-sectional survey was carried out in the Netherlands in 2016–17, in which participants reported the number and age of their contacts the previous day. The survey was repeated among a subsample of the participants in April 2020, after strict physical distancing measures were implemented, and in an extended sample in June 2020, after some measures were relaxed.


The average number of community contacts per day was reduced from 14.9 (interquartile range (IQR): 4–20) in the 2016–17 survey to 3.5 (IQR: 0–4) after strict physical distancing measures were implemented, and rebounded to 8.8 (IQR: 1–10) after some measures were relaxed. All age groups restricted their community contacts to at most 5, on average, after strict physical distancing measures were implemented. In children, the number of community contacts reverted to baseline levels after measures were eased, while individuals aged 70 years and older had less than half their baseline levels.


Strict physical distancing measures greatly reduced overall contact numbers, which likely contributed to curbing the first wave of the COVID-19 epidemic in the Netherlands. However, age groups reacted differently when measures were relaxed, with children reverting to normal contact numbers and elderly individuals maintaining restricted contact numbers. These findings offer guidance for age-targeted measures in future waves of the pandemic.


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