Covid-19: Harvard study suggests bouts of social distancing required till 2022

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on April 15, 2020 Published on April 15, 2020

Intermittent social distancing may be required lasting up to 2022 to lessen the pressure on healthcare systems across the globe and to reduce to impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak, according to a recent study by Harvard scientists who modelled the pandemic's trajectory.

The Harvard team's computer simulation mapping the trajectory was published in a research paper in the journal Science.

“Intermittent distancing may be required into 2022 unless critical care capacity is increased substantially or a treatment or vaccine becomes available,” reads the study.

“Experience from China, Italy, and the United States demonstrates that Covid-19 can overwhelm even the healthcare capacities of well-resourced nations With no pharmaceutical treatments available, interventions have focused on contact tracing, quarantine, and social distancing. The required intensity, duration, and urgency of these responses will depend both on how the initial pandemic wave unfolds and on the subsequent transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2,” it said.

The study assumed that the Covid-19 disease will become seasonal similar to other diseases caused by closely related viruses such as flu or common cold with higher transmission rates in colder months. However, much information about the virus is yet to be discovered including the immunity acquired by the previous versions of the virus and the time period for which it lasts.

“The intensity and timing of pandemic and post-pandemic outbreaks will depend on the time of year when widespread SARS-CoV-2 infection becomes established and, to a lesser degree, upon the magnitude of seasonal variation in transmissibility and the level of cross-immunity that exists between the betacoronaviruses,” the study said.

“The total incidence of Covid-19 illness over the next five years will depend critically upon whether or not it enters into regular circulation after the initial pandemic wave, which in turn depends primarily upon the duration of immunity that SARS-CoV-2 infection imparts,” it further said.

According to the study, until a definite treatment or vaccine is available to curb the outbreaks, social distancing is the most effective way to ensure that the outbreaks do not peak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday also urged countries to carefully consider certain parameters before lifting restrictions warning that the Covid-19 pandemic was ten times deadlier than the 2009 swine flu epidemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week had urged countries to carefully remove imposed restrictions as lifting lockdowns too quickly could lead to a “deadly resurgence of the virus.”

“We know that in some countries, cases are doubling every 3 to 4 days. However, while Covid-19 accelerates very fast, it decelerates much more slowly. In other words, the way down is much slower than the way up. That means control measures must be lifted slowly, and with control. It cannot happen all at once,” Ghebreyesus reemphasized his point in the Monday briefing.

Over two million cases of Covid-19 have been reported across the globe so far according to reports.

Published on April 15, 2020

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