This is not fear mongering – Coronavirus lifestyle is here for the long haul (at least two years)

“Americans need to know date certain when this will end. The uncertainty for businesses, parents and kids is just not sustainable” is a tweet by Laura Ingraham who is the editor-in-chief of LifeZette, a conservative American website. She is also the host of The Ingraham Angle on Fox News Channel. Her tweet expresses frustrations many have right now, wondering when this coronavirus lifestyle will end.

Laura Ingraham and many across the globe, myself included, want this to end soon. Prayers are being uttered and rituals being performed in several places to beseech the gods to have mercy on humanity, all in the hope that somehow and suddenly coronavirus might go away. This need is so entrenched that if anyone makes any prediction that we are here with the virus for the long haul, that person is immediately castigated as rumour mongering. Take for instance the reaction that was received from a post by Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Global CEO of AMREF Health Africa Co-Chair UHC2030. The good doctor wrote:

This pandemic is not a short term social disruption but it’s going to take months before our lives go back to normal & start social gatherings. May & June is likely to be the peak with thousands of infected people. Take it slow…

This is marathon, brace yourselves fellow humans. It’s going to be months of public health measures of physical distance with banned gatherings. Months! My conservative guess is 4-5 months from now.

Dr. Githinji went ahead to encourage Kenyans (and humanity at large) to figure out how they can go into hibernation for at least 5 months. But as already said, his message was not well received. Pedestrian thinker, a twitter user, responded by saying that the doctor’s message is basically “scaring mongering”.

It is understandable that people do not want to hear that coronavirus lifestyle of social distancing, curfews, lockdowns, working from home, video conferencing, e-learning, food rationing, economic slowdown, government subsidies, etc is here for more than many may want to admit. But that doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand hoping, the way we are actually hoping, that the virus will miraculously disappear. What we need to ask is, how long will we be with coronavirus lifestyle?

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The situation in China South Korea, Japan, Singapore on one hand and Europe (Italy, Spain, Germany, France, UK), and the US on the other hand should be able to provide us with clear pictures of the coronavirus infection cycle. The Asian countries ought to give us insight on how fast the infection curve can be flattened when the outbreak is properly managed, while the Western Europe and US should provide us with a second picture of how the infection curve behaves when leaders ignore to intervene early.

The first infections in China can be traced back to November 17, 2019, but China started taking coronavirus seriously on January 22nd when the infection numbers spiked to 521, and had already started leaking to other countries. Between January 22nd and March 1st, China witnessed unprecedented exponential growth of active cases that would peak at 58,000 on February 17, exactly 3 months after the first cases appeared in the country. The same trend can be said of South Korea but since South Korea acted much earlier, it took them just one month to flatten the curve of their active cases.

In Europe and the US where the response was sluggish at the beginning, their number of active cases are still rising, almost three months after they recorded their first cases – death rates unimaginable, and their health systems overstretched.

Three months seem to be a reasonable time for a country to expect to flatten their curve for active cases before they can start reducing the numbers, but even after that it doesn’t mean they shall have brought their lives back to normal. China that responded by locking down Hubei in mid January and implementing social distancing policies across China including the stay at home advise, it is still along way before China can go back to business as usual. The capital Beijing is generally still a ghost town.

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Even if we assume that a country like China could take down their active cases to zero in the next 20 days (average time for a patient to fully recover), their lives will not jump suddenly back to normal. Internally they will still have to exercise a lot of social distancing to prevent potential spread caused by asymptomatic cases, and externally they will still have to disallow or highly regulate International flights given the increasing cases of coronavirus worldwide – and this social distancing and economic slowdown will likely go on until the last country (at least the ones that directly deal with China) has gone through the whole 5 to 6 months coronavirus infection cycle. If China doesn’t do that, then it will have to restart dealing with new infections. Actually, most of new infections in China currently being reported are infections that are being imported into the country.

The bad news is that even though China is approximately 20 days shy of completing their coronavirus infection cycle, US and European countries are in the middle of the cycle and are yet to reach their peaks, whereas African and South American countries are at the beginning of their cycles. Assuming no national re-infections from imported cases going forward, then the earliest we can expect life to get back to normal is by October this year. But that’s a big assumption. According to Vox Science Reporter Brian Resnick, “The hard truth is that it may keep infecting people and causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop it.” Brian made that observation from comments made by Scientists such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force and Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The situation coronavirus lifestyle we are trying to get used to will continue with us for as long as there is no cure, and as long as majority of the world population do not get infected so that we can acquire that natural herd immunity. If we could allow everyone to get infected, so the the sick get sick and those that must die to die, we could run down the health systems in most countries within a month or so, but be able to recover in a year. This is the quickest way to get out of coronavirus lifestyle, but it is the most inhuman, evil and draconian. No sane person will recommend this approach, unless they are totally insane.

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The lesser evil option without a cure is definitely to continue with working from home, social distancing, banned public gatherings, and basically a brand new social lifestyle. To prevent this type of life from going on forever and ever, a cure (vaccine) must be found soonest. But even if we were to find a cure right now, the quickest the cure can be made available to the general public is two years.

Typically, developing a brand new vaccine usually goes through a process that lasts for “10-15 years and involving a combination of public and private involvement”, but if we are to bypass several bureaucratic and stringent measures meant to safeguard humans from potentially harmful vaccines, measures such as pre-clinical trials, then end of this year is an optimistic timeline for a vaccine to be declared. Already companies such as Moderna Therapeutics are set to start human trials on their coronavirus vaccines this April. The other close one is a trial by Johnson & Johnson that said human testing of its coronavirus vaccine to begin by September. Optimistically therefore, we should have a working vaccine by December 2020, then if a vaccine is found to be working we get into the next obstacle, mass producing the vaccine – a problem that should take us through the end of 2021.

It is obvious therefore that with or without a vaccine coronavirus lifestyle is here to be with us for at least two years, a time span that will make it possible for either economies to collapse to their knees globally, or for almost everyone to get infected then through that we get to develop that herd immunity.

All in all, as Brian Resnick concluded, “In time, we may learn how to balance the need to “flatten the curve” with the need to live our lives and revive the economy. But for now, it appears we’re in for a long haul.”

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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