Several questions regarding the nature of the coronavirus are giving scientists and government leaders sleepless nights and a lot depends on their answers.
Social distancing is going to stay in some form until a successful vaccine is tried, tested and supplied to global markets. And that means we will have to mind a 1.4-metre gap until 2022, according to scientists at Harvard University.
The abrupt lifting of restrictions could reverse all the gains the world has made to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections and potentially lead to a severe resurgence by 2024, the scientists warned in an article published in Science journal in mid April.
From the beginning of the pandemic, health experts have been issuing social distancing advisories, asking people to refrain from unnecessary physical contact, including handshaking, hugging and kissing, forcing the world to abandon their cultural greetings for now.
After a close examination of the journey of the contagion — from Wuhan, China to the rest of the world — the global scientific community agreed on following strict social distancing combined with public-health scrutiny, which means collecting intelligence on the number of infections, the trail of their contacts and ensuring infected people, both symptomatic and asymptomatic are isolated and kept in quarantine.
One possible way to eradicate the virus is launching emergency public health detective work on the pattern of the SARS-CoV-1 response in 2003, but that is nearly impossible since the coronavirus infections are approaching the two million mark globally. Therefore, the SARS-CoV-1 type outcome is increasingly unlikely, the researchers wrote.
As scientists are unable to understand whether the virus can remain dormant in colder months, reemerging with a delayed peak in the autumn, on-and-off social distancing measures could last at least until 2022 as the only way to keep the contraction rate low. Meanwhile, the world needs to build hospital capacity and make sure they have increased the number of doctors, nurses and paramedics.
What are social distancing rules?
These vary from country to country. In general, governments encourage their people to stay at home and only go out if they have a reasonable excuse. Countries like India, which has 1.3 billion people, have been under a lockdown since March 25. Turkey has been following intermittent lockdowns, closing down markets on weekends and public holidays.
Government leaders are weighing several questions: Is the impact of the virus going to change with the seasons? Will the collective immunity increase with more and more infections? Debating these, governments are also grappling with massive economic losses as millions of people are out of work and staying home. Since pressure is growing to loosen restrictions in the US, UK, Turkey and elsewhere, the complete lifting of social distancing norms is still out of question.