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When will Covid-19 pandemic end?

When will Covid-19 pandemic end?
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The importance of a vaccine to put an end to this pandemic has to be acknowledged

Maintaining physical distancing and living in self isolation is adversely affecting the economy and socio-political relations. Moreover, it can have a toll on one’s mental health and general well-being. It is true that the lockdowns have drastically slowed down the rate of transmission of covid-19 amongst people and is giving time to healthcare providers to treat the current patients and obtain more medical equipment like tests kits, ventilators and etc. However, as the lockdown continues, people become impatient and businesses incur losses, it is only natural to ask, “When will this end?” 

There is no correct or accurate answer to this. Experts do not have enough information regarding this new virus and cannot predict its future. Looking at past trends of pandemics, it can be deducted that covid-19 can last anywhere from a year to 36 months. It could be more or less, it cannot be said for sure as covid-19 is an entirely different virus and cannot be compared to others as viruses spread differently and are contained differently. “My expectation is that Covid-19 will continue to be a threat for a good part of 2020, and that we will start to see the page turn in 2021,” Dr. Desai, a former epidemic intelligence service officer in the division of viral diseases at the CDC, says. “At that point, we may have a vaccine, and we will have much more experience with this disease.”

There have also been many talks about how hot weather can kill covid-19, as it usually does to other types of coronavirus considering they peak from December to March. However, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), experts do not have enough experience with covid-19 to confirm this. They are unsure if temperature changes will affect the deadliness of the virus. Moreover, it has to be acknowledged that covid-19 is not limited to a specific area, it is spread worldwide. Therefore, there will always be winter somewhere. We could get lucky and the virus could die down as summer approaches in the northern hemisphere where it is most prevalent, but it is likely to return in fall.

Lockdown is always a last resort but it might not be possible to sustain it in the long term due to the massive economic losses it entails along with mental health problems. The lockdown is scheduled to be lifted by the end of April and if things go back to normal, if people go back to work and engage with each other, the virus is going to strike back like it has in China, Korea and other Asian countries/states. However, as more and more people get infected and then recover, their bodies may acquire the immunity to fight off the virus so when it resurfaces, it has very little to no impact. This is known as herd immunity and to obtain this type of immunity, a portion of the population would have to be infected. In February, the U.K. government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, estimated that 60% of the population would have to be infected to develop herd immunity. Now, it solely depends on the precautions and safety protocols the governments enforce. The more lenient and relaxed they are, the quicker we can reach this threshold, but it would come at the cost of overburdened healthcare systems, illnesses, a high death rate and economies possibly collapsing.

Therefore, the importance of a vaccine to put an end to this pandemic has to be acknowledged.
“The vaccine is critical, because, until you have that, things aren’t really going to be normal,” says billionaire philanthropist, Bill Gates. These vaccines are not going to be available for use by the masses for another year or two. However, scientists around the world are working together to fast track the processes and perform many of the steps side by side and run trials simultaneously in multiple locations, which can reduce the timeline for the availability of a vaccine. Sarah Gilbert, Vaccinology Professor at Oxford, hopes to have her vaccine ready by fall of 2020, to be used by the general population.

It should be noted that the development of a successful vaccine is just the beginning of a massive hurdle, which is manufacturing and the finance required for that. Even if a vaccine is available sooner than the quoted 12-18 months, it does not necessarily mean that there will be enough doses to vaccinate the entire population. The governments lack the resources and capacity to mass manufacture drugs.

Associate fellow of the Centre on Global Health Security at the Royal Institute for International Affairs at Chatham House in London, U.K., Professor David Salisbury, says, “It is not just the availability of the first dose that we need to focus on. We need to know by when there will be sufficient doses to protect all of the at-risk population, probably with two doses; and that means industrial scale manufacturing that governments do not have. It is also worth remembering that, too often, the bottlenecks for vaccine production are at the last stages — batch testing, freeze drying, filling and finishing: again, capacities that governments do not have.”

Despite the hurdles, experts are staying optimistic in the face of this pandemic and working tirelessly to fight it. Bill Gates says, “The amount of pain involved in this thing is gigantic. And, you know, so it’s deeply troubling, but we need to still act to minimize all of that.” Bill Gates’ foundation is funding the construction of seven factories for seven different candidate vaccines out of which the best two will be selected for mass production. "It'll be a few billion dollars we'll waste on manufacturing for the constructs that don't get picked because something else is better. But a few billion in this situation we're in, where there's trillions of dollars...being lost economically, it is worth it," Gates said. Moreover, The U.K government has awarded many grants to organizations and institutes working for the development and manufacturing of covid-19 vaccines. Governments and the medicine industries are collaborating all over the world, to devise plans for mass manufacturing vaccines and working at full capacity to defeat covid-19.

Pandemic or Endemic?

There is a large possibility that covid-19 is going to stay with us forever. Experts compared it to other endemics like tuberculosis, influenza and other types of corona virus. “I think what we’re looking at now with SARS-CoV-2 is that process of becoming a new seasonal human pathogen. And so, in that sense, humans will be with this virus forever,” says Professor Paul Kellam, an infectious disease specialist and professor of virus genomics at Imperial College London, U.K.

“The question is: Will this new coronavirus become endemic like those infections, or will it be more like Ebola, which can be contained when an outbreak occurs, only to reappear at some future time? No one can predict with certainty the destiny of this virus,” says Professor David Heymann, an adviser of the World Health Organization, who is also an infectious disease specialist with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, U.K. There is no definite answer regarding the final fate of covid-19 but there is some hope that the impact of the virus will lessen with time as it spreads because more people will develop immunity against it, according to Sandra Kesh, MD, an infectious disease specialist and deputy medical director at Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York.

What next?

The best approach to fight back this virus that everybody is adopting seems to be to practice social distancing. If this is not done, the virus will spread rapidly, as discussed above. It might lose its impact but the price for that will be extremely high. The chaos it would entail would be far more damaging than we can even imagine. If there is a shortage of healthcare providers, the healthcare system will collapse and there might not even be a chance of recovery, let alone to develop immunity. Therefore, for now, all we can do is stay in, and slow down the spread of the virus. This might not necessarily mean that less people will get infected. Maybe the same number of people will get infected in comparison to the people infected while not practicing physical distancing. However, with social distancing, it will be spread over a longer period of time, lifting some strain off of the healthcare system, till the vaccines come along.

It needs to be realized that social distancing and lockdowns will have to be implemented for a long time to win the war against covid-19, with the least number of fatalities. “I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks, this is about the next two years,” said Michael Osterholm, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota.

For the coming months, the world will have to learn how to work as a cooperative global community. Hopefully, soon, we will come out of this pandemic with better healthcare systems, better social relations, bi-lateral ties, and as better human beings. Till then, as they say, “Stay in and stay safe.”