As lockouts lift, worries about “second wave” grow


FLIGHT. A crew member of a French evacuation flight from Wuhan hands disinfectant to passengers during the flight to France on February 1, 2020. Photo Hector Retamal / AFP

FLIGHT. A crew member of a French evacuation flight from Wuhan hands disinfectant to passengers during the flight to France on February 1, 2020. Photo Hector Retamal / AFP

PARIS, France – As several countries begin to ease their blockages after an initial spike in COVID-19 cases, attention turns to how to avoid a “second wave” of infections while social distancing is reduced .

Italy and Spain – two of the hardest hit countries – have already started allowing outsiders to exercise for the first time in almost two months, and several U.S. states have allowed businesses to reopen.

In France, where containment measures are scheduled to end on May 11, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has declared that there is a “fine line” between lifting traffic restrictions and preventing a further outbreak of infections. an illness that killed nearly a quarter of a million. people around the world.

“The risk of a second wave – which would hit our already fragile hospitals, which would need us to re-impose containment and waste the efforts and sacrifices we have already made – is serious,” he said this week. last. (READ: World leaders call for cooperation in hunting vaccines and raising $ 8 billion)

Social distancing has proven effective in flattening the curve of new COVID-19 cases, by buying health systems a crucial moment to recover and regroup. But it also meant that a very small percentage of people are likely to have been infected and therefore to have developed immunity.

The French Pasteur Institute estimates that only about 6% of the country’s population will be infected by May 11.

Even in the hot spots of the virus in France, it is believed that no more than 25% of people caught COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic.

This means that without a viable vaccine, experts say it is impossible to imagine that life will return to normal anytime soon.

Patience game

“It will take several weeks or even months to see the virus circulate again” at a high level, explained on radio France Inter virologist Anne Goffard.

A second wave of infections is likely, she said, “no later than the end of August”.

But while experts are more or less united on the likelihood of a new spike in cases where blockages are eased, there is a debate over how the second wave will compare to the first.

Some senior health officials – notably in Germany and the United States – have warned that it could cause even more infections than the March / April peak. Others are more optimistic that changes in personal behavior may slow new cases.

Pierachille Santus, a Milan-based lung specialist, said the second wave “will likely be smaller than the first” thanks to the control measures.

It is not yet known how or if the new coronavirus will respond to warmer weather. Other viruses tend to go dormant during the summer months.

“There is probably a link (between the virus) and heat and humidity,” Jean-François Delfraissy, president of the French scientific council, said on Monday.

“We expect a fairly peaceful summer,” he said, but warned that the virus could come back by force later this year.

Even if businesses can reopen and people go back to the streets, there are many ways to slow the spread of the virus.

These include keeping your distance from others, avoiding touching your face, washing your hands, wearing a mask in public – all the habits that people have, to some extent, taken up during first wave.

A model led by the Expertise in public health research group has shown that such measures could reduce the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 to 85,000 in France, compared to 200,000 without any social distance or wearing a mask.

Yet even in the best of new infections, hospitals are at risk of being inundated with new patients.


Other vital measures after the lockout ends are testing and contact tracing – finding these new infections and isolating the people they have been in close contact with.

If countries could increase their screening and screening capacity, “we could have a series of microwaves,” according to Didier Pitter, head of infection control and prevention at the Geneva University Hospitals.

Governments will seek to limit the rate of transmission of COVID-19 (R0) to less than one: that is, each person infected infects less than another on average.

A study published last month in The Lancet found that tests, contact tracing and isolation of confirmed infections reduced the R0 in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to 0.4.

This helped the city avoid an epidemic like the one that hit Wuhan, where the virus first appeared in December. –


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