Reproductive number of coronavirus: A systematic review and meta-analysis based on global level evidence

PLoS One. 2020 Nov 11;15(11):e0242128. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0242128. eCollection 2020.


Background: The coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) is now a global concern because of its higher transmission capacity and associated adverse consequences including death. The reproductive number of coronavirus provides an estimate of the possible extent of the transmission. This study aims to provide a summary reproductive number of coronavirus based on available global level evidence.

Methods: A total of three databases were searched on September 15, 2020: PubMed, Web of Science, and Science Direct. The searches were conducted using a pre-specified search strategy to record studies reported the reproductive number of coronavirus from its inception in December 2019. It includes keywords of coronavirus and its reproductive number, which were combined using the Boolean operators (AND, OR). Based on the included studies, we estimated a summary reproductive number by using the meta-analysis. We used narrative synthesis to explain the results of the studies where the reproductive number was reported, however, were not possible to include in the meta-analysis because of the lack of data (mostly due to confidence interval was not reported).

Results: Total of 42 studies included in this review whereas 29 of them were included in the meta-analysis. The estimated summary reproductive number was 2.87 (95% CI, 2.39-3.44). We found evidence of very high heterogeneity (99.5%) of the reproductive number reported in the included studies. Our sub-group analysis was found the significant variations of reproductive number across the country for which it was estimated, method and model that were used to estimate the reproductive number, number of case that was considered to estimate the reproductive number, and the type of reproductive number that was estimated. The highest reproductive number was reported for the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship in Japan (14.8). In the country-level, the higher reproductive number was reported for France (R, 6.32, 95% CI, 5.72-6.99) following Germany (R, 6.07, 95% CI, 5.51-6.69) and Spain (R, 3.56, 95% CI, 1.62-7.82). The higher reproductive number was reported if it was estimated by using the Markov Chain Monte Carlo method (MCMC) method and the Epidemic curve model. We also reported significant heterogeneity of the type of reproductive number- a high-value reported if it was the time-dependent reproductive number.

Conclusion: The estimated summary reproductive number indicates an exponential increase of coronavirus infection in the coming days. Comprehensive policies and programs are important to reduce new infections as well as the associated adverse consequences including death.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification
  • COVID-19
  • Computer Simulation
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Databases, Factual
  • Disease Outbreaks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • SARS-CoV-2

Grants and funding

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.