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Coronavirus: When Will It Finally End?

Ábrahám Vass 2020.03.27.

Infected or not, everyone has already had enough of the coronavirus epidemic, but we are still heading onwards. On the heels of the Hungarian government’s latest limitation measures, taking a look at the outbreak, we can assess that COVID-19 will not just easily go the way it came, perhaps staying, causing trouble and forcing limitation measures for a long while.

Pretty much what we see now is measures in attempts to flatten the curve in order to avoid the saturation of the healthcare system. This can save millions of lives but will probably also prolong the end of the pandemic by delaying potential herd immunity. Interestingly, as of now, after the UK changed its stance, Sweden seems to be the only country to stand by herd immunity, and has yet to implement tough and compulsory social distancing measures.

The spread of the disease, however, seems to show no signs of slowing down in Europe. Nontheless, a hopeful sign is that China already reported the end of the epidemic there.

Summer won’t solve it

According to the short-term forecast of the latest update of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), unless modified by effective intervention, current estimates predict that about half of all European countries will reach a rate of 100 cases per 100,000 people (the precedence in China’s Hubei province at the peak of the epidemic) by the end of March, with the remaining countries reaching that level by mid-April 2020.

Sadly, the report also found that the coming summer would unlikely solve the outbreak. While the four coronaviruses that are endemic in human populations and are responsible for 10–15% of common cold infections are hardly detected in the summer months, this doesn’t seem to be the case with COVID-19. Based on preliminary analyses, in China and other countries, high reproductive numbers were observed not only in dry and cold districts but also in tropical districts with high absolute humidity, such as in Guangxi and Singapore. As a result, there is no evidence to date that SARS-CoV-2 will only be prevalent during the winter season, emphasizing the importance of implementing intervention measures such as isolation of infected individuals, workplace distancing, and school closures.

Others, however, see warmer temperatures of the coming months as good news that may slow down the spread of the epidemic in hard-hit countries such as Italy, Spain, and the United States. MIT researchers found that communities in warmer locations have a comparative advantage over others, with the majority of diseases occurring in the regions with low average temperatures (3-17 degrees Celsius).

Scientists are pretty much agreed that there are now basically three ways out: 1. vaccination; 2. enough people to develop immunity through infection or 3. permanently change our behavior/society. But according to Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, while the first option is 12-18 months away, the second one is about two years away, and the last option (and alternatives within) has no clear endpoint.

What does this mean for politics?

Not surpsiringly then, politicians also echo different opinions or rather their hopes. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, recently infected, said that he believes the UK can “turn the tide” against the outbreak within the next 12 weeks and the country can “send coronavirus packing.” While experts and virologists agree that in the US the virus is still to peak, Donald Trump has also already spoken of potentially lifting the restrictions soon.

While Hungarian PMO Chief Gergely Gulyás said that according to the governmental task group consisting of experts, the pandemic would peak in June or July in Hungary.

Christian Drosten, a German virologist, interviewed by Politico, warned that politicians are not making decisions based on actual data right now since that is not available. Instead, moves like curfews and school closures are driven by their gut instincts and observational impressions. Hard data is still weeks away, but epidemiologists are rushing to gather it to help officials make an informed decision by Easter.

featured image via MTI/EPA/EFE/Joedson Alves


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