Does quarantine control coronavirus (COVID-2019) either alone or in combination with other public health measures?


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by a new virus that has spread quickly throughout the world. COVID-19 spreads easily between people who are in close contact, or through coughs and sneezes. Most infected people suffer mild, flu-like symptoms but some become seriously ill and even die.

There is no effective treatment or vaccine (a medicine that stops people catching a specific disease) for COVID-19, so other ways of slowing (controlling) its spread are needed. One of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations for controlling the disease is quarantine. This means separating healthy people from other healthy people, in case they have the virus and could spread it. Other similar recommendations include isolation (like quarantine, but for people with COVID-19 symptoms) and social distancing (where people without symptoms keep a distance from each other physically).

What did we want to find out?

We wanted to find out whether and how effectively quarantine stops COVID-19 spreading and if it prevents death. We wanted to know if it was more effective when combined with other measures, such as closing schools. We also wanted to know what it costs.

Study characteristics

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly, so we needed to answer this question as quickly as possible. This meant we shortened some steps of the normal Cochrane Review process. Nevertheless, we are confident that these changes do not affect our overall conclusions.

We looked for studies that assessed the effect of any type of quarantine, anywhere, on the spread and severity of COVID-19. We also looked for studies that assessed quarantine alongside other measures, such as isolation, social distancing, school closures and hand hygiene. COVID-19 is a new disease, so, to find as much evidence as possible, we also looked for studies on similar viruses, such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).

Studies measured the number of COVID-19, SARS or MERS cases, how many people were infected, how quickly the virus spread, how many people died, and the costs of quarantine.

Key results

We included 29 studies. Ten studies focused on COVID-19, 15 on SARS, two on SARS plus other viruses, and two on MERS. Most of the studies combined existing data to create a model (a simulation) for predicting how events might occur over time, for people in different situations (called modelling studies). The COVID-19 studies simulated outbreaks in China, UK, South Korea, and on the cruise ship Diamond Princess. Four studies looked back on the effect of quarantine on 178,122 people involved in SARS and MERS outbreaks (called ‘cohort’ studies). The remaining studies modelled SARS and MERS outbreaks.

The modelling studies all found that simulated quarantine measures reduce the number of people with the disease and the number of deaths. With quarantine, estimates showed a minimum reduction in the number of people with the disease of 44%, and a maximum reduction of 81%. Similarly, with quarantine, estimates of the number of deaths showed a minimum reduction of 31%, and a maximum reduction of 63%. Combining quarantine with other measures, such as closing schools or social distancing, is more effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 than quarantine alone. The SARS and MERS studies agreed with the studies on COVID-19.

Two SARS modelling studies assessed costs. They found that the costs were lower when quarantine measures started earlier.

We cannot be completely certain about the evidence we found for several reasons. The COVID-19 studies based their models on limited data and made different assumptions about the virus (e.g. how quickly it would spread). The other studies investigated SARS and MERS so we could not assume the results would be the same for COVID-19.


Despite limited evidence, all the studies found quarantine to be important in reducing the number of people infected and the number of deaths. Results showed that quarantine was most effective, and cost less, when it was started earlier. Combining quarantine with other prevention and control measures had a greater effect than quarantine alone.

This review includes evidence published up to 12 March 2020.

Authors' conclusions: 

Current evidence for COVID-19 is limited to modelling studies that make parameter assumptions based on the current, fragmented knowledge. Findings consistently indicate that quarantine is important in reducing incidence and mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Early implementation of quarantine and combining quarantine with other public health measures is important to ensure effectiveness. In order to maintain the best possible balance of measures, decision makers must constantly monitor the outbreak situation and the impact of the measures implemented. Testing in representative samples in different settings could help assess the true prevalence of infection, and would reduce uncertainty of modelling assumptions.

This review was commissioned by WHO and supported by Danube-University-Krems.

Read the full abstract...

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a rapidly emerging disease that has been classified a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). To support WHO with their recommendations on quarantine, we conducted a rapid review on the effectiveness of quarantine during severe coronavirus outbreaks.


We conducted a rapid review to assess the effects of quarantine (alone or in combination with other measures) of individuals who had contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19, who travelled from countries with a declared outbreak, or who live in regions with high transmission of the disease.

Search strategy: 

An information specialist searched PubMed, Ovid MEDLINE, WHO Global Index Medicus, Embase, and CINAHL on 12 February 2020 and updated the search on 12 March 2020. WHO provided records from daily searches in Chinese databases up to 16 March 2020.

Selection criteria: 

Cohort studies, case-control-studies, case series, time series, interrupted time series, and mathematical modelling studies that assessed the effect of any type of quarantine to control COVID-19. We also included studies on SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) as indirect evidence for the current coronavirus outbreak.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently screened 30% of records; a single review author screened the remaining 70%. Two review authors screened all potentially relevant full-text publications independently. One review author extracted data and assessed evidence quality with GRADE and a second review author checked the assessment. We rated the certainty of evidence for the four primary outcomes: incidence, onward transmission, mortality, and resource use.

Main results: 

We included 29 studies; 10 modelling studies on COVID-19, four observational studies and 15 modelling studies on SARS and MERS. Because of the diverse methods of measurement and analysis across the outcomes of interest, we could not conduct a meta-analysis and conducted a narrative synthesis. Due to the type of evidence found for this review, GRADE rates the certainty of the evidence as low to very low.

Modeling studies consistently reported a benefit of the simulated quarantine measures, for example, quarantine of people exposed to confirmed or suspected cases averted 44% to 81% incident cases and 31% to 63% of deaths compared to no measures based on different scenarios (incident cases: 4 modelling studies on COVID-19, SARS; mortality: 2 modelling studies on COVID-19, SARS, low-certainty evidence). Very low-certainty evidence suggests that the earlier quarantine measures are implemented, the greater the cost savings (2 modelling studies on SARS). Very low-certainty evidence indicated that the effect of quarantine of travellers from a country with a declared outbreak on reducing incidence and deaths was small (2 modelling studies on SARS). When the models combined quarantine with other prevention and control measures, including school closures, travel restrictions and social distancing, the models demonstrated a larger effect on the reduction of new cases, transmissions and deaths than individual measures alone (incident cases: 4 modelling studies on COVID-19; onward transmission: 2 modelling studies on COVID-19; mortality: 2 modelling studies on COVID-19; low-certainty evidence). Studies on SARS and MERS were consistent with findings from the studies on COVID-19.