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Infectious Diseases

Coronavirus UK: How Long will it Last, and What does the Future Hold?

Posted on 7 April 2020

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It took just 12 weeks from the first case of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, being reported to over a quarter of the world’s population being put on lockdown. As it stands today, nearly 80,000 people have lost their lives to this deadly infection. But this is only the frightening first chapter of the COVID crisis. Without any verified treatments, and a vaccine far beyond the horizon, it is more than likely that coronavirus will play a major part in our lives for the next year, at least. While here in the UK the worst part of the outbreak is immediately ahead of us, things are unlikely to be normal again for a long time.

For the British government, the Imperial college study, published on 16th March, prompted a stark realisation that COVID-19 would not race through the population allowing the natural, herd immunity of the public to provide an organic resistance. This study highlighted the fact that without a change in tact to much stricter social distancing measures, the carrying capacity of the UK’s intensive care units could be exceeded eight-fold, resulting in upwards of 250,000 deaths.

How long will it all last? These words – in their various forms – are now thrown on a daily occurrence at politicians and civil servants at the government’s press briefings.

The Imperial College models suggest that even with a five-month period of social distancing, the UK will experience a second peak in mid-November. Along with a study conducted in Harvard, projections propose that only sustained and intermittent social distancing will help avoid a second peak, which can be just as devastating as the first. However, in order for this to be successful the measures may have to be in place for well over a year. The Harvard study goes even further than this, stating that the measures may be necessary until 2022, and the Imperial paper notes that any vaccine may be at least 18 months away and even then, we have no assurances that it will be effective.

Those that hold the view that ‘all will be back to normal by summer’ have turned from charmingly optimistic, to downright ill-informed.

To totally eliminate the threat, I think a vaccine is probably what’s going to be needed. It’s just not feasible to think about herd immunity or achieving some level of infection in a population in a way that doesn’t collapse things

says Natalie Dean, a biostatician at the University of Florida. Source: WIRED ‘Where is the world at with a coronavirus vaccine?’
Every Vaccine and Treatment in Development for COVID-19, So Far – Visual Capitalist

There are currently 44 different vaccines being evaluated for use against Sars-CoV-2, with two of these at the clinical trial stage already.

But until a safe and effective vaccine puts a definitive end to the outbreak, governments will have to entertain the possibility of re-enforcing the lockdown measures on multiple occasions.

If things seem like they’re not working we’re going to have to be willing to clamp back down

Natalie Dean

Even with effective testing, social distancing and isolation, the situation can swerve out of control devastatingly quickly. The next 18 months are likely to exist as a sort of purgatory. As public patience is pushed to previously untested limits, governmental resolve will be challenged with those in power eager not to trigger a second wave of infection, all the while economic uncertainty grows.

It is hoped that by October 2021, after we have all lined up patiently for our jabs and the threat of the virus has receded, we may finally begin to take account of the damage the novel coronavirus has wrought.

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    1. Worldometer.
    2. Ferguson, N. et al., Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand. Imperial College London. March 2020.
    3. Kissler, Stephen, Christine Tedijanto, Marc Lipsitch, and Yonatan Grad. Social distancing strategies for curbing the COVID-19 epidemic March 2020.
    4. Matt Reynolds, WIRED. This is how life under coronavirus will play out over the next year.
    5. COVID-19 Treatment and Vaccine Tracker. Milken Institute.
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