How important is the speed and intensity of behavioral change due to government policies, such as enhanced social distancing or lockdown, when an emerging infectious disease occurs? In this study, we introduce a deterministic SEIR model considering the behavior-changed susceptible group to investigate the effect of the speed and intensity of behavioral change on the transmission dynamics of COVID-19. We used epidemiological data from South Korea and Italy for the simulation study, because South Korea and Italy were the first countries to report an outbreak of COVID-19 after China and the prevention and response policy of each government were similar during the first outbreak of COVID-19. Simulation results showed that it took approximately twenty fewer days in Korea than in Italy until 90% of susceptible individuals changed their behavior during the first outbreak. It was observed that the behavior-changed susceptible individuals reduced the COVID-19 transmission rate by up to 93% in Korea and 77% in Italy. Furthermore, if the intensity and speed of behavioral change in Italy were the same as in Korea, the expected number of cumulative confirmed cases would have been reduced by approximately 95%, from 210,700 to 10,700, until the end of the lockdown period. We assumed that behavioral change is influenced by the number of confirmed cases and does not take into account social and cultural differences, as well as the state of the healthcare system, between the two countries. Our mathematical modeling showed how important the high intensity and fast speed of behavioral change to reduce the number of confirmed cases in the early period of an epidemic are.
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