When will the pandemic end? Experts' answers.
We all are tired of the coronavirus. How is it getting on our planet? Will it stay for long with us?
With the arrival of spring it seems that humanity's patience is at an end. There are increasingly loud voices of discontent and demands to shed light on the future prospects of this protracted pandemic. How and when exactly will we come out of lockdown? And when will this disaster end after all?
Will the pandemic end in a few months?
A recent statement made by Hans Kluge, director of the WHO Regional Office for Europe, triggered the public debate. He told the Danish media that the pandemic would be over in "a few months". His words broke out fierce discussions in the expert community and in social networks? Belgian Dr Kluge told the German second TV channel ZDF after the hype: "I did not say that". What he really meant was that no one could predict today when the pandemic would end. "I would put forward this working hypothesis for now: by early 2022 we will have left the pandemic behind" the WHO official commented. Of course, the coronavirus itself won't go anywhere but severe restrictive measures will no longer be necessary.
The quote from the director of the WHO Regional Office for Europe went viral and was met with disapproval in the scientific community. On his Twitter account, Christian Drosten, Germany's best-known virologist and the head of the virology institute at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, responded to all those who think the virus has slowed down its pace. "At the moment, none of the mutations that we know of gives us any reason to say that the virus has got weaker. That would be a pure speculation," Drosten wrote. Earlier this year, the Berlin virologist told in his podcast on NDR that it could take a long time before the virus would become endemic, i.e. it will remain on our planet but its manifestation will be only local. In an interview with "Der Spiegel", Christian Drosten said that the situation with the coronavirus could become dangerous above all in 2021.
The well-known politician Karl Lauterbach, a doctor and epidemiologist by his education, holds similar views and warns against a rash easing of the lockdown measures. Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder, in an interview with the German media, voiced his concerns and warnings about lifting restrictions too quickly and opening all spheres.
How does the coronavirus behave?
More than 114 million people worldwide have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus since the pandemic began, and more than 2.5 million have died. The absolute numbers are frightening. In some countries, the pandemic is still in full swing. The emergence of mutations and the possibility of a third wave pandemic is keeping many people in fear. According to the WHO, the total number of infections has been declining for the past two months, and it's happening much faster than experts predicted. In mid-January, about 700,000 people were infected with the coronavirus every day; now it has "only" halved.
Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, said that the numbers are encouraging. "This trend is a reminder to us: when we are having discussions about vaccination today we should not forget that the coronavirus can also be controlled through effective public health measures. Many countries have already gone down that road.
So why is the number of infections declining? Experts cite many reasons. Obviously, it is not because of vaccination, since only a small fraction of the world's population has been vaccinated so far. Certainly, measures such as social distance and hygiene rules have proven effective. This is an argument in favor of gradually loosening the lockdown. In some countries, such as the U.S. and Brazil, the number of infections has already reached such a level that collective immunity will soon emerge.
Will the coronavirus become a local problem?
There is also a widespread belief among scientists that the coronavirus will weaken in the medium term as new mutations emerge. In mid-February, American scientists from universities in Atlanta and Pennsylvania published a study suggesting that the coronavirus would soon become endemic, and that vaccination would help accelerate this process.
According to Klaus Stöhr, who was director of the WHO global influenza program for many years and coordinated coronavirus research, this prediction is quite realistic. His experience shows that the spread of infectious diseases can suddenly slow down completely unexpectedly. This is how two terrible pandemics, the Asian flu (mass pandemic of 1957) and the Hong Kong flu (pandemic of 1968), suddenly disappeared from the surface of the earth. Both pandemics took away the lives of seven million people. The Spanish influenza which broke out after World War I killed far more people. Between 1918 and 1920 more than 50 million people died of Spanish Flu. The third wave of Spanish flu was short-lived. However, the H1N1 virus still occurs today but in a more innocuous and milder form.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus can meet a similar fate in the medium term. Most likely, the coronavirus will remain with us but it will appear locally and in a milder form. If mutations help to reduce the risk of a dangerous course of the disease, the virus itself will no longer seem so ominous. However, until this becomes a global trend we will have to strike a balance between the necessary restrictions on social contact and the possible lockdown relaxations.