Months have gone by since the initial outbreak of COVID-19 and governments have responded with strict measures to eradicate the virus within their borders, and many have been successful in bringing down the number of cases and reaching a plateau. Meanwhile, other countries like the US and Brazil struggle to keep the outbreak under control, reporting a high number of new cases daily. It is too early to talk about a “second wave” in most countries, however health experts say that it will most likely happen and being prepared for it can make a significant difference in the outcome of the pandemic in general.
When predicting the future of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts look to other pandemics and the behavior of other viruses. Examples include the 1918 flu pandemic and the 2009 H1N1 flu epidemic, both of which began with a mild wave of infections in the spring, followed by another surge of cases in the fall. In the case of Spanish flu, the second wave was much more fatal than the first one after an apparent mutation.
With these examples to learn from, epidemiologists are warning the world to keep restrictions going, despite growing lockdown fatigue among the people and devastating consequences for the global economy. Until there is a vaccine that is widely distributed, the world faces the threat of more resurgences of the virus.
In a report published by the researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), there are three possible scenarios for what the next year might look like. The projections are for the Northern Hemisphere, though the study authors said they could apply to the global south as well.
In the first scenario, the current wave of cases are followed by smaller waves continuously throughout the next 1 to 2 years, varying across geographies. This kind of a trajectory would mean the outbreaks can be kept under control with periodic restrictive measures, depending on the height of the waves.
The second scenario, which would have the worst outcome out of the two, would mean that the current wave of cases would be followed by an even larger surge of cases in the fall and winter and smaller waves continuing after. Similar to the Spanish flu pandemic, this trajectory would produce more fatalities in the coming months, meaning that governments will have to keep stringent social distancing measures to keep the cases under control and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.
In the third scenario, the current wave would be followed by a “slow burn” of ongoing transmissions without a clear wave pattern varying across geographies, depending on the level of measures taken. While this pattern was not seen with past influenza pandemics, it remains a possibility for COVID-19. This scenario could mean that the outbreaks can be controlled without further measures, however cases and deaths will continue to happen.
Research to find the vaccine for COVID-19 continues and until it is widely accessible, governments and communities will have to take necessary precautions to make sure that the transmission of the virus is reduced. In this period, the future outcomes of countries depend heavily on their capacity to trace the spread and maintain social distancing measures.
Experts say the second wave could hopefully mean more contained outbreaks in places where testing and tracing systems are well functioning and universal. This means the responsibility falls not only on governments, but also smaller institutions, the private sector and individuals to take measures to protect the public health. The challenge is to find a balance between protective measures and normalized economic and social activity, which can be achieved with innovation.
Many services and products are rapidly being developed to help societies with different methods. Boni Global’s Safe Steps wearable devices and mobile application for social distancing aims to make it safe for businesses to go back to work and slowly return to previous levels of productivity by protecting their employees and customers and putting in place a tracing system that allows them to keep possible outbreaks under control. A wide adoption of a small-scale system like this can ensure protection against outbreaks on a larger scale.
Contact us to find out how you can implement Safe Steps in your business to protect your employees and contribute to the protection of public health.