Social distancing could continue for years as study shows second wave of coronavirus could overwhelm hospitals


The strength of human immunity will dictate how long the coronavirus will persist after the first wave of infections – but social isolation may need to be maintained as early as next year.

Research suggests that the infection will re-emerge once the social distancing measures are lifted after the virus was first removed.

The second wave of the disease could overwhelm hospitals as social distance may need to be maintained intermittently until 2022, research suggests.

But there is still a threat that the virus can drag on for several more years.

A patient's COVID-19 swab is taken out of a sterile tube for testing
A patient’s COVID-19 swab is taken out of a sterile tube for testing

New modeling indicates that the virus will continue until 2025 depending on the length of human immunity – which scientists currently know little about.

Researchers say studies are urgently needed to determine the extent of population immunity, whether immunity declines and at what rate.

Experts believe that Covid-19 is unlikely to follow its nearest cousin, Sars-CoV-1, and be wiped out by intensive public health measures after causing a brief pandemic.

Instead, it is believed that the spread of the disease could resemble that of the seasonal flu.

Stephen Kissler, postdoctoral fellow at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Grad Lab, Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and colleagues, studied a wealth of data from known viruses to determine how long social distancing measures must remain in place to maintain control of Covid-19 during the nest five years.

The researchers studied all the scenarios, including punctual and intermittent social distancing, the infections reappear when the simulated social distancing measures are lifted.

The study found that if social distancing eases as virus transmission increases in the fall, an intense winter epidemic can occur, overlapping the flu season and exceeding the capacity of hospitals.

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Another scenario suggests that a resurgence of Covid-19 may occur in the future until 2025.

Researchers say new treatments may alleviate the need for strict social distancing, but in the absence of these, monitoring and intermittent distancing may need to be maintained until 2022.

The authors reported in the journal Science: “Our goal in modeling such policies is not to endorse them, but to identify the likely trajectories of the epidemic under alternative approaches. “

He continued, “Additional interventions, including increased capacity for intensive care and effective treatment, would improve the success of intermittent distance and accelerate the acquisition of collective immunity.”

Mark Woolhouse, professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, said, “This is an excellent study that uses mathematical models to explore the dynamics of Covid-19 over a period of several years. , unlike previously published studies that focused on the coming weeks or months.

“It is important to recognize that this is a model. It is consistent with current data but is nevertheless based on a series of assumptions – for example on acquired immunity – which remain to be confirmed.

“The study should therefore be seen as suggesting possible scenarios rather than making firm forecasts. “


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