The 1918 flu, also known as the Spanish Flu, lasted for three years and is considered the deadliest pandemic in modern history. The 1918 flu hit the United States in three waves — a mild outbreak in the spring, the deadliest wave in the fall and a final spike when the virus returned that winter. All told, the pandemic infected a third of the world’s population and killed at least 50 million people. In 1918, the studies found, the key to flattening the curve was social distancing. And that likely remains true a century later, in the current battle against coronavirus.
As the epicenter of the pandemic has shifted from China to Europe, and the United States continues to grapple with an increasing number of cases and deaths, the study’s findings were “crucial for policy makers everywhere,” according to Tim Colbourn of University College London, who wrote in an accompanying journal editorial. Colbourn said “safe ways out of this situation must be identified,” as countries around the world put their own lockdown restrictions in place.
A research, just launched by physicists at The University of Utah, was designed to help public health officials understand how the new coronavirus will react as the seasons change. “Viruses lose infectivity because the particles lose structural integrity,” University of Utah physicist Saveez Saffarian said in a statement.
The uncertainty stems from the fact that a pandemic is more like a marathon than a sprint. It comes in waves till it eventually dies down when it’s contained. World Health Organization (WHO) officials on Wednesday expressed a similar viewpoint, warning against ending coronavirus lockdowns too early.
These measures are the best way to suppress and stop transmission so that when restrictions are lifted, the coronavirus doesn’t resurge,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference Wednesday. “The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.”
Health experts initially said the worst of the virus spread would occur between late May and late June, with an estimated 95 per cent of infections predicted in this timeframe. However, Public Health England (PHE) later showed there would be a slow growth of new coronavirus cases every day, and these cases were expected to spike dramatically.
Most countries are currently in the ‘delay’ phase of its coronavirus response, meaning it is too late to contain it, so efforts are instead being made to slow the spread. This will allow health officials to cope when the number of cases peaks, relieving some pressure on medical staff. However, Dr Harries has now said this peak will happen sooner if the public don’t follow their government’s advice to stay at home.
During the post-peak period, pandemic disease levels in most countries with adequate surveillance will have dropped below peak observed levels. The post-peak period signifies that pandemic activity appears to be decreasing; however, it is uncertain if additional waves will occur and countries will need to be prepared for a second wave.
Previous pandemics have been characterized by waves of activity spread over months. Once the level of disease activity drops, a critical communications task will be made to balance this information with the possibility of another wave. Pandemic waves can be separated by months and an immediate “at-ease” signal may be premature.
It is expected that the pandemic virus will behave as a seasonal influenza A virus. At this stage, it is important to maintain surveillance and update pandemic preparedness and response plans accordingly. Though it’s highly likely China may develop a vaccine soon, China already has a say in how to react to this virus. This is not just because the virus had its origin in China, but because China has the highest recovery rate of about 90%. In April, China will call off their lockdown and establish measures for the rest of the world, including the US, on the way forward in this global crisis.
Even if a vaccine is developed today, it’s not necessarily the end of the outbreak since people carrying the virus must all be contained to prevent further outbreak before progress can really be seen.
Dr. Dushoff, whose model shows that social distancing can sharply drive down peak infection rates, said that even if it ultimately proves impossible to contain the virus, public health measures are still buying precious time for researchers to develop treatments and vaccines, and for physicians to learn how to best help patients who are infected.
Now that public health measures are in place, the situation is more complex. If they are effective, the peak could be significantly reduced and also delayed by another couple of months or more. If they are very effective, there is still a chance – now a vanishingly small one – the virus could be kept from reaching a large fraction of the population. However, if case numbers remain low, that will also present a reason for people to return to familiar behaviour, which would increase transmission rates again and set the stage for COVID-19 to rebound with another and possibly greater surge.
Stay home! It’s a long journey to the other side. The more you socialize, the longer the journey and the more people die. Stay right where you are!