The end of the coronavirus pandemic is still likely to be a long way away. FILE PHOTO Photographer Ayanda Ndamane African news

How and when will the Covid-19 pandemic end?

“An end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of the panic mode and learn to live with a disease.”

DURBAN – The end of the Covid-19 pandemic is most likely a long way away, so says President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In his weekly newsletter on Monday, the president said “We must, therefore, be prepared to continue to live with the coronavirus among us for a year or even more. We must be prepared for a new reality in which the fight against Covid-19 becomes part of our daily existence.”

As countries and cities continue to enforce lockdowns, to flatten the curve, the one question on everyone’s mind is when will this pandemic actually end and how?

The 1918 flu which is held up today as the example of the ravages of a pandemic, killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide. The flu faded away, evolving into a variant of the more benign flu that comes around every year.

According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.

“When people ask, ‘When will this end?’ They are asking about the social ending. In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of the panic mode and learn to live with a disease,” said Dr Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

Echoing Greene’s sentiment is Harvard historian, Allan Brandt.

“As we have seen in the debate about opening the economy, many questions about the so-called end are determined not by medical and public health data but by sociopolitical processes,” he said.

Meanwhile, virology experts say another scenario could be the mutation of the virus. All viruses accumulate mutations over time or change their genomes. They are hoping that SARS-CoV-2, which shares 85percent genetic similarity to original the SARS virus, will mutate in a potentially beneficial way, similarly to how the SARS virus behaved in the 2002 outbreak when it mutated into something much more severe but with a much lower infection rate for humans, practically spelling its own death.

Scientists are working at breakneck speeds to develop antiviral treatments or a vaccine for the virus. In the absence of a viable vaccine for the foreseeable future, a final scenario could involve managing Covid-19 by treating its symptoms rather than its cause. 

“There is no easy solution. The months ahead will involve a fragile balancing act between the interests of public health, society and the economy, with governments more reliant on each other than ever before,” said Prof Devi Sridhar.

 

 

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