The coronavirus, known to humans as SARS-CoV-2, was non-existent nine months ago. No one had the slightest clue of what was awaiting us at the turn of 2020. And when the deadly Covid-19 struck, it came with a brutal force, spreading to all corners of the world, infecting millions and living more 900,000 dead to date. Economies have crashed, health care systems have been pushed to the limit, and people have been left jobless. Modern society, as we knew it, has been disrupted, and social distancing and wearing face masks have become the new norm. People around the world are longing to get back to a ‘normal’ lifestyle. But how will Covid-19 end? First, here’s how it all started.
How Covid-19 Began
We’ve all heard where the Covid-19 pandemic originated from – Wuhan, China. Bats in Wuhan held a mix of coronavirus strains, which somehow managed to cross from one host (bats) to another (humans). And when it did, it spread like bushfire.
Humans are social beings, and we interact a lot, traveling from one region to another either for work, leisure, or visiting family and friends. So, we were the perfect targets. And soon, the virus had spread to almost all countries around the world, with others like China, Italy, and Spain recording the highest number of infections. While some regions have managed to control the spread of the virus, it is still lurking, and we need to find a lasting solution, quickly.
The big question now remains, how will Covid-19 end?
Here is the thing. This is not the first time the world has been hit by a pandemic. In the past 100 years or so, there have been several global epidemics that devastated the world. Each epidemic eventually came to a stop, and the society returned to normalcy. If historical cases are anything to go by, we should expect the coronavirus strain to come to an end. But when it ends will depend on human response, both biological and social.
Curbing the Spread
Crowding was the leading source of the spread. With the immune system still trying to figure out what the virus was, infections multiplied. And due to lack of medicine, it exploded, leading to a high number of infections. However, with time, the immune system developed antibodies to fight the invaders. But not everyone could fight the virus, especially the elderly and sick, whose immune systems were weak. Soon, taking measures such as social distancing seemed to work, and countries like New Zealand and Rwanda that effectively implemented those measures managed to limit the spread of the virus. This shows that the virus can be eradicated since (it can only survive in the air or on surfaces for just a few hours or days)( https://www.sciencealert.com/how-long-does-coronavirus-last-on-surfaces), depending on the type of surface. Other measures like sanitizing surfaces and using air purifiers to clean the air, among other good hygiene practices also worked to minimize the spread. With lockdowns easing up in most countries, there hasn’t been as large a surge of infections as predicted, mostly partly due to maintaining social distance, wearing masks, and hand washing or using hand sanitizers.
In regions where Covid-19 is on the decline, like Hong Kong, researchers agree that the best approach is surveillance by testing and isolating new cases and tracing their contacts. But, for this method to be effective, contact tracing must be extensive and thorough. The weather is also a likely contributor to how fast the virus spreads. Warm temperature makes it easier to contain the pathogen than regions with colder temperatures. And according to Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, dry winter air is likely to improve “the stability and transmission of respiratory viruses, and respiratory-tract immune defense might be impaired by inhaling dry air.” Scientists say that the risk to adults who already have the virus could be reduced, just like with flu, but they are predicting that in the future, Covid-19 could arrive in waves every winter.
Ending the Covid-19 Pandemic
To end the pandemic, Covid-19 must either be eliminated worldwide, which is a near-impossible scenario considering how widespread it is, or we must build enough immunity through vaccines or infections. Speaking of vaccines, while there are vaccines for several types of coronavirus that affect livestock, there isn’t a vaccine for the more notorious strain that affects humans like SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. To date, while significant progress is evident, no potential vaccine is effective and safe in preliminary clinical trials.
With dozens of labs around the globe trying to create a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the Covid-19 pandemic, only one vaccine has been approved. Russia approved the vaccine before completing tests, leading to concerns from global authorities against cutting corners. Historically, pandemics either fade away as we get vaccines and our bodies build immunity, or we learn how to live with it. And as we are already witnessing, social trends, politics, and new ways of living will evolve to conform to the current state of affairs. Herd immunity is expected somewhere in 2021 if vaccines are highly effective with minimal side effects. However, revaccinations may be required to maintain immunity, and constant surveillance of Covid-19 will be a necessity. Returning back to normalcy might take some time, and people will become more confident to start mingling when they know that they can go out without endangering themselves and others.
With transitions already starting in some regions, the more people with immunity, the fewer deaths and long term health consequences there will be. But that timeline is not easy to tell right now. According to experts, Covid-19 may be under control by the first half of 2021, and we may start experiencing a pre-COVID normal within two years, depending on the availability of a vaccine.
All images by Shutterstock