Citizen Action Monitor

Pandemics come in waves so be prepared for on-off periods of social distancing until 2022

On and off periods of social distancing present substantial social, economic, emotional burden say researchers.

No 2609 Posted by fw, April 5, 2020 —

Andrew Nikiforuk

“Keeping two metres apart in public and staying home reduces the spread of the coronavirus, find researchers, but its nature makes it hard to defeat any time soon. Be prepared for a long public health emergency with extended periods of social distancing perhaps lasting as long as 2022. That’s one of the sobering conclusions from three different reports from some of the world’s top disease modellers and epidemiologists in England and the United States. … Gabriel Leung, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Hong Kong recently summed up our collective predicament in the science journal Nature:  ‘The tension between health, protecting the economy and emotional well-being will vex every government for the foreseeable future.’”Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee

Andrew Nikiforuk is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about the energy industry for three decades and is a contributing editor to The Tyee.

Now seems more likely we could see second and third waves

The good news from the London Imperial College study — social distancing slowed progress of the virus through the population. The bad news from the Harvard study — a single period of social distancing will not stop virus from roaring back. And more bad news from the London Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases — premature and sudden lifting of social distancing interventions could lead to an earlier secondary peak.

Below is my repost of Nikiforuk’s clear and concise article, with three added subheadings to set visually apart the three studies. Alternatively, read his original piece by clicking on the following linked title.

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Why Social Distancing Could Stretch to 2022 by Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, April 3, 2020

Be prepared for a long emergency, say new research studies.

Keeping two metres apart in public and staying home reduces the spread of the coronavirus, find researchers, but its nature makes it hard to defeat any time soon.

Be prepared for a long public health emergency with extended periods of social distancing perhaps lasting as long as 2022.

That’s one of the sobering conclusions from three different reports from some of the world’s top disease modellers and epidemiologists in England and the United States.

First, the good news.

London Imperial College study — social distancing slowed progress of the virus through the population.

London’s Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team calculates that a gradual decrease in the number of reported deaths in Italy indicates that social distancing and a national lockdown has slowed the progress of the virus through the population.

To make a difference, interventions like social distancing have to cut infection rates from one person infecting three to one person infecting fewer than one.

There is an approximately three-week lag between the start of social distancing and its impact on cases and alleviating stress on hospital care.

The college estimates that dramatic changes in social behaviour in 11 European countries have probably already saved 59,000 lives as of March 31.

To date, the attack rate has been “highest in Spain followed by Italy and lowest in Germany and Norway, reflecting the relative stages of the epidemics.”

In addition, the modellers estimate that, across all 11 countries, “between seven and 43 million individuals have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 up to March 28, representing between 1.88 per cent and 11.43 per cent of the population.

That means 90 per cent of the population due to successful social distancing still has no immunity and will be vulnerable to the next wave of the pandemic.

It remains critical that current interventions remain in place,” concluded the researchers.

Harvard study – a single period of social distancing will not stop virus from roaring back

Now, for some bad news.

Another group of modellers and epidemiologists at Harvard University warns that a single period of social distancing will not be sufficient to quell the pandemic in any given community because the virus will come roaring back once restrictions have been eased.

On and off periods of social distancing, of course, “present a substantial social and economic burden” said the researchers.

(Most pandemics come in waves. The Spanish flu came in three waves between 1918 and 1920. It infected a third of the population and killed as many as 55,000 Canadians. The second wave killed the most people.)

Communities that successfully “flatten the curve” for the first wave of COVID-19 will not be able to abandon their vigilance, added the researchers.

A successful social distancing summer campaign might keep hospitals functioning but it will prolong the pandemic by creating “a high density of susceptible individuals who could become infected in an intense autumn wave.”

For the next two years, intermittent social distancing might have to be imposed for 25 to 70 per cent of the time depending on the seasons in order to “keep hospitals from being critically overloaded.”

Moreover, “if SARS-CoV-2 immunity wanes rapidly, social distancing measures may need to be extended longer.”

For communities that have flattened the curve, the biggest risk will remain “re-introductions of SARS-CoV-2 from locations with ongoing outbreaks.

The modellers suggest that new drugs or aggressive contact tracing and isolation of the infected — a strategy hampered by shortages of tests in most jurisdictions, “could alleviate the need for stringent social distancing to maintain control of the epidemic.

London Centre for the Mathematical Modelling study – Premature and sudden lifting of interventions could lead to an earlier secondary peak

A third study by Kiesha Prem at the Centre for the Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases in London, England, underscores that the emergency will be long.

Her team developed a model that tracked the effect of physical distancing over time based on the number of social contacts individuals engage with every day by age group at home, school, work and other locations in Wuhan city.

Prem and her fellow researchers found that if Wuhan relaxed restrictions on social distancing in March, the virus would come roaring back three months later in June peaking in August.

An easing of restrictions in April would buy two months before the virus re-emerged in August with a peak in October.

In other words, an additional month of physical distancing after an outbreak will only buy two months of relaxed measures before the reinstatement of lockdown to protect hospitals from being slammed by the virus.

But there is no doubt that social distancing takes the edge off the virus and has “a strong potential to reduce the magnitude of the epidemic peak of COVID-19 and lead to a smaller number of overall cases.”

Premature and sudden lifting of interventions could lead to an earlier secondary peak, which could be flattened by relaxing the interventions gradually,” warned Prem’s study.

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Gabriel Leung, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Hong Kong recently summed up our collective predicament in the science journal Nature:  “The tension between health, protecting the economy and emotional well-being will vex every government for the foreseeable future.”

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