The first case of covid-19 transmitted in the UK was reported on 31 January. Since then, it has spread to nearly every country in the world after emerging in China at the end of last year. The hope of many is that there will be an end to the pandemic in the near future and the world will soon be able to return to normal. However, what will happen if there isn’t an end to the coronavirus outbreak?
The most effective resolution to the issue is that a vaccine may be available next year. However, even spring of 2023 would be the fastest in medical history, and there’s no assurance that this will happen. The end of the virus requires a safe and effective vaccine; however, there is still the problem of manufacturing the vaccine in sufficient quantities at a quick enough pace. A vaccine will need to pass at every stage to be ready for use in autumn 2021. So there is a possibility that covid- 19 may be around for a little while longer.
There is not the first time a solution may not be found for a virus. Despite being first diagnosed in 1984, the world is still waiting for an HIV vaccine nearly four decades and 32 million deaths later. An effective vaccine for dengue fever, which infects as many as 400,000 people a year, according to the WHO, has eluded doctors for decades. The development of the daily preventative pill – pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, led to hundreds of thousands of people at risk of contracting HIV being protected from the disease. Unlike previous diseases like HIV and malaria, coronavirus does not mutate rapidly. Therefore, there is a possibility that the best we could hope for is a very effective treatment or treatments.
Another possibility is that covid-19 will keep spreading at a high rate and become endemic; therefore regularly infecting humans like the common cold. If covid-19 follows the pattern of the 1918 Spanish flu, it is likely to last up to two years and return in autumn and winter. Outbreaks of the disease could still occur each year. There are already four endemics in circulation which cause the current cold. Many experts think this virus will become the fifth with the effects growing milder as immunity spreads and our bodies adapt to it over time.
A potential outcome is that people will grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with the disease. If coronavirus doesn’t go away, societal changes will need to take place. There will be permanent changes in attitudes towards remote working, ensuring that offices are never full unnecessarily. There may also be a bigger emphasis on altering working hours or wearing masks in public spaces. If covid-19 doesn’t end, people may also have to remain in social distancing for some time.
One result is that society could develop herd immunity, reached when the majority of a population, around 70% to 90%, become immune to an infectious disease. The end of a pandemic also relies on the time it takes for the global population to build natural (herd) immunity. This means that the virus doesn’t have enough new hosts to continue infecting large numbers. However, we don’t know yet whether people are still immune once they’ve had it. If someone gets sick with the coronavirus again, the second infection might not be as bad. This is a possible outcome, but we’re not sure how well it will work.
It may be that the symptoms will be treated rather than the illness. Currently this is what is happening, however it would need to be long-term. In this situation, health workers would supply antiviral treatment that prevents patients needing to go to intensive care.
Yet, there is still hope, as New Zealand declared itself coronavirus-free this week and Taiwan is close to that milestone. Therefore, even though there is a possibility that covid-19 will still be around for a longer period of time, nobody really knows what this will look like.
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