Epidemics come in waves. The plague in Athens in the 5th century BC hit the city four times in five years. The 1889 flu epidemic came to some countries and cities two and three times in the following years.
The most famous and relatively recent pandemic of Spanish flu hit the United States and Europe in the spring of 1918, then returned again in the fall and winter – even more deadly. If the incidence was high in spring, the mortality rate did not differ much from normal. The second, autumn wave, which occurred in September – November, turned out to be much more fatal. The winter wave was less fatal, but still more significant than the initial outbreak.
This was an unprecedented phenomenon: three vast waves of the epidemic in one year in quick succession and with very short respite. In this case, the first two waves arose, it would seem, at a time not very favorable for the influenza virus. Some scientists believe that such an unconventional behavior of the virus was caused by a mutation that it underwent in a short period of time. This mutation prevented the immunity developed by humans from recognizing the virus.
What are virologists afraid of?
In a recent interview with The Guardian, leading German coronavirus expert Christian Drosten admitted that he was afraid of a second, more deadly wave of the virus. Now in his homeland half of the intensive care units are half empty, people accuse the government of overreacting. Unfortunately, people are ready to believe in a threat only when it reaches a certain level that can impress them. Christian calls this the “prevention paradox”: people and local authorities will relax, the degree of threat will be downplayed, numbers will creep up – the second wave of the epidemic will come.
There is something to fear. As German practice shows, half of the infections occurred before the carrier developed clear symptoms of the disease. The virus is faster than those who try to track the potential contacts of the infected. And this greatly complicates attempts to crush the infection only by “testing – tracking – isolation”.
Could this summer be a respite?
Many viruses (both seasonal flu and other coronaviruses) for some reason do not like warm summer weather. As temperature and humidity increase, they lose their strength and subside. Such viruses are characterized by seasonality in temperate latitudes.
Viruses react worse to high temperature and humidity, which make them less viable, affect external proteins and the membrane, and change the rate of evaporation of droplets of the virus. In addition, warm weather changes people’s behavior, which affects the level of infection. They spend less time in stuffy rooms, ventilate offices, schoolchildren go on vacation, get vitamin D from sunlight, spend more time on the street, which can strengthen immunity.
But so far, there is no clear evidence that the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus will behave the same.
On April 23, at a briefing at the White House, US Deputy Secretary of State for National Security William Bryan presented preliminary results of an analysis conducted at the Army Biosafety Laboratory. They concluded that increasing temperature and exposure to sunlight affects the ability of the virus to survive in droplets exhaled by humans, as well as on surfaces. But the experiments were carried out in laboratory conditions. There is hope, but …
“It would be irresponsible for us to say that this summer will simply kill the virus,” – summed up William Bryan.
The same cautious position is shared by the committee of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Experimental studies do provide easy hope, but “there are many other factors that determine and influence the rate of transmission of the virus among people in the real world.”
Yes, some kind of relief can happen. Hypothetically, the infection may slow down. But just as hypothetically, it can again gain strength when it gets colder outside the window, and an infection that is not strangled in the root will attack again.
On the other hand, countries with tropical climates have likewise been hit by the current pandemic. Although in Africa itself the smallest cases of infection have been identified, the reason for this may be not so much warmth as factors of inadequate testing, young people, modest tourist potential and, as a result, a small number of sources of infection.
All these fortune-telling on the coffee grounds are very unstable. The world is at the epicenter of a hurricane and cannot accurately assess the scale of the disaster.
Can I get coronavirus again?
Most modern scientists fear that it will not be possible to finally defeat the coronavirus now: we need to be careful, we know too little about the immunity from the new coronavirus, it is far from the mass introduction of the vaccine, we must always prepare for the worst.
For example, at the end of April, the scientific community and the media were disturbed by a report from South Korea that 277 patients who had recovered from COVID-19 were again detected. This again raised the question of immunity and the possibility of reinfection. Fortunately, in early May, the South Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention made an encouraging statement: it is impossible for the virus to re-reactivate in the human body. It turned out that the “relapse” of COVID-19 was caused by false positive test results. In simple words, the tests used could not distinguish living traces of the virus from the harmless dead residues that were recovered.
Severin Schwan, the head of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, believes that people who have already had COVID-19 have developed immunity to infection. But it takes more effort to study this immunity.
“We know from other coronaviruses: it’s very likely that as soon as you have an infection, you have acquired immunity, He says. – However, this should still be proven over time. “We need research to understand whether those people who were once infected can really get infected again.”
How to avoid the second wave of COVID-19?
Do not lose vigilance and learn to live in a new way. Human nature is such that over time, the news background ceases to disturb us, and the numbers of deaths and infections are simply transformed into numbers. We relax, stop keeping our distance, we are lazy to pull the mask above the chin, because nothing happened in a month – maybe it will blow. And when they start talking about a waning epidemic, this “maybe” only grows stronger.
Although still not a single European country has reached the threshold of 60–70% of those infected of the total population, which would allow us to talk about the development of collective immunity and the natural attenuation of the epidemic. Anders Tagnell, Sweden’s main epidemic fighter, believes Stockholm’s collective immunity could be achieved in May. By May 1, according to Tegnell’s modeling, 26% of the population in the capital of Sweden could have been infected or already ill – assuming that 75 diagnosed cases were detected for each diagnosed case. Pretty optimistic. Will they be right, only time will tell.
But how to avoid the second wave if the country has not chosen the path of collective immunity and decided not to risk the health of its citizens from the risk group? Here is an example of those countries that have already passed through the first wave.
Hong Kong faced a panic in society in early February. A city with close ties to mainland China was at risk from the impact of an epidemic that was gaining momentum on the mainland. Crowds of people bought toilet paper, medical masks, food. But by early March, the numbers of people infected in the country were relatively small – only 150 cases.
It seemed that the authorities managed to contain the spread of infection, but with the return of residents from abroad, a second, more serious wave followed. By the end of the month, 700 cases were recorded. To contain this second wave of imported cases of coronavirus, the city banned entry for all non-residents, airports were closed for transit travelers, and strict quarantine and testing were introduced for all arriving residents, regardless of where they arrived. Those who were placed in home quarantine were required to wear electronic bracelets that reported their whereabouts to the authorities.
In general, there was no strict quarantine in Hong Kong, but measures were taken that would make people less likely to gather indoors: banned the sale of alcohol in bars, closed sports clubs, many restaurants and cafes. Those who continued to work, were obliged to reduce the number of seats, increase the distance between customers. Thanks to this, on April 19, the last case of infection due to internal transmission of the virus was recorded. Since the beginning of May, one imported case has been recorded.
In China, many tourist attractions work again and gather crazy crowds of tourists. Nevertheless, the country understands that the threat is still in the air and that the virus can again cross the borders. To avoid the second wave of infections, a number of restrictions have been introduced in the country. In general, they are called the impetus for “civilized behavior” and the development of hygiene habits.
Starting June 1, Beijing will be required to wear masks for those who are sick. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cold or the flu. If you feel unwell – put on the mask, otherwise you will be fined. The penalty is imposed for those who sneeze or cough in public places and do not cover their nose and mouth. Delinquent – cook 200 yuan (about $ 28). These violations will affect the social credit of the Chinese. Also, Beijingers will be prohibited from sharing dishes during a joint dinner, and in public places will be obliged to observe a distance of 1 meter.
In Harbin and the province of Heilongjiang, which borders Russia, increased security measures have been established: they test and forcibly isolate visitors, wear masks on the streets. It was recently reported that Heilongjiang has become the region on the map of China with the largest cluster of new cases of coronavirus: half of 140 cases of local infection occurred in this province.
China will avoid harsh responses, as is the case with Wuhan. However, this does not mean that in a country that has won the coronavirus, life can so quickly return to its previous course. As before, no one will be able to live; one must get used to living in a new way.
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