COVID-19 may look like pandemic flu coming back every year: Harvard study


COVID-19 could look like a pandemic flu that returns every year, according to a Harvard study released Tuesday, which concluded that a single lockout would not be enough to stop the new coronavirus.

Instead, we may have to go through several cycles of social distancing, until 2022, in order to ensure minimal pressure on hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

The authors of the study, published in Science, performed a computer simulation of the virus and based the model on estimates of seasonality and immunity of other coronaviruses in the United States.

“We have found that ad hoc measures of social distancing are likely to be insufficient to keep the incidence of (COVID-19) within the limits of critical care capacity in the United States,” said lead author Stephen Kissler in a statement. ‘a call with journalists.

Without a vaccine and no other treatment, life simply cannot return to normal after the first lock. Otherwise, multiple social distancing efforts will have to be put in place, said Kissler, as current health care capabilities would not be able to support the outbreak.

Citing the examples of South Korea and Singapore, the researchers wrote that effective distance can reduce pressure on health systems and allow tracing and quarantine.

Currently, there is no vaccine to treat the new coronavirus and, therefore, periodic blockages would allow hospitals to increase their capacity for intensive care in the event of an infection outbreak.

As vaccines become available, the duration and severity of blockages may decrease.

When cases start to increase, collective immunity can also occur, said co-author Marc Lipsitch. Collective immunity is a situation in which enough people in a population are immunized against an infection to effectively prevent the spread of the disease.

Paramedics take a resident of the Floralies Lasalle, a retirement home, amid an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, April 14, 2020.

/ Photo taken on November 26, 2018 / REUTERS / Christinne Muschi

On the other hand, the authors warn that if social distancing is pushed too far, where there are too many closures, it could be catastrophic.

With one of the models, “social distancing has been so effective that virtually no immunity from the population is built,” says the document, hence the need for common ground.

The study recognized that prolonged distancing would most likely have profoundly negative economic, social and educational consequences.

The researchers noted a major drawback of their simulations: the little information currently available on COVID-19, in particular the immunity of a previously infected person and the duration of this immunity.

People arrive at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Monday, March 16, 2020. At midnight, all persons returning to Canada will be required to check in to a hotel or other designated site unless they have a self-driving plan acceptable quarantine. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Nathan Denette

Nathan Denette /


However, the authors said it was highly unlikely that people would build immunity strong enough to clear the virus and that a resurgence could occur until 2024.

The World Health Organization has warned that infections “certainly” have not yet peaked. Almost 2 million people worldwide were infected and more than 124,000 died in the most severe pandemic of a century.

The epicenter has moved from China, where the virus emerged in December, to the United States, which has now recorded the most deaths.

With Reuters files.


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