Over the past week, several nations, including Spain and US states have announced plans to start relaxing coronavirus restrictions. But there’s a big risk to opening up too soon— as experts warn it could spark a second wave of coronavirus infections. If this second wave happens during winter it would be even more difficult as it would coincide with flu season.
A second wave of disease outbreak happened with the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people in total. That pandemic experienced three waves, and the second wave was more deadly than the first.
Many experts agree that a second wave of the coronavirus is inevitable. “This is an efficiently spreading human virus and it will not disappear without a vaccine,” said infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health.
The severity of a second wave depends on the success of protective and preventive measures, such as healthy hygiene habits and social distancing. These help reduce the threat of a second wave—but they need to be strictly enforced, along with rigorous testing to identify the “hot spots” in the country. Only then can cases be isolated and the best protective measures implemented to see a decrease. Without sustained social distancing enforcement and quality testing, the easing of restrictions—even with the best of intentions—will increase the risk of non-immune people being exposed to infectious people.
Watching what is happening in other countries proves how virulent the new coronavirus is and can offer predictions for Spain. While China has been seemingly successful in controlling the outbreak in Hubei province, the epicenter of the original outbreak, they’ve had an increase in cases in the north. After reporting near-zero local transmissions over several weeks, a new batch of COVID-19 cases in the city of Harbin, at the border with Russia, has resulted in fresh lockdowns, reported the Financial Times.
Singapore, too, has seen a sudden resurgence in coronavirus infections, despite being praised for its early control efforts. Although the disease has come back in cramped migrant worker dormitories, where hygiene practices and nutrition are poor, it shows just how quickly the disease can return where people are in close proximity.
It’s still too early to identify COVID-19 patterns, but countries can’t be kept on lockdown for prolonged periods of time due to the economic burden and also the psychological impact of staying at home, but most experts agree that residents need to strictly follow social distancing until herd immunity from COVID-19 via mass immunisation is achieved in a further six to 12 months.
In the meantime experts believe that businesses should start sending their employees for medical tests frequently or do daily temperature tests and the government should do the same by taking care of public places. It’s crucial to continue frequent hand-washing, not touching your face, cleaning surfaces often, and using a mask and gloves to protect yourself when you’re in a public place. And, of course, follow social distancing guidelines.