Unlocking the lockdown
The Covid19 pandemic has hit the world hard. In four months we have seen millions infected, thousands dying and the healthcare systems, even in the most developed countries, stretched to breaking point.
It is now time to start considering how you will get people back into the workplace as many economies worldwide are struggling and may even collapse if this crisis continues.
While not necessarily knowing with any certainty the timescales or details of how restrictions will be actually lifted, or in what order, Governments and Organisations need to do their best to understand how they can prepare to bring their country out of lockdown.
Countries are making different changes to their restrictions as coronavirus outbreaks are at different stages around the world
In some places lockdowns are being eased, in others the restrictions are being kept in place and elsewhere they are being strengthened.
The World Health Organisation has advised countries that when easing restrictions, they should wait at least two weeks to evaluate the impact, before taking further action.
Until we safely get to immunity we will need to hit and release the brakes on physical distancing, again and again.
Extreme forms of physical distancing like lockdowns and quarantines are curbing the spread of Covid-19. But they cannot last indefinitely, at least not without causing enormous damage to economies and compromising peoples’ good will and emotional well-being.
The first objective of any response, anywhere, must be to protect and try to save as many lives as possible with whatever means are available, avoiding the collapse of the health care system.
Anyway, the ultimate objective must be to bring the epidemic down to a slow burn to buy time for the world’s population to acquire, one way or another, immunity to Covid-19.
Experts say that the Covid-19 pandemic can only be prevented from resurging when at least half of the world’s population has become immune to the new virus.
And that can happen in only one of two ways:
Allowing the first option to happen, unmitigated, would be a humanitarian catastrophe and it would mean very many deaths, mostly among the elderly and poor people with limited access to health care. The second option, developing a safe, effective vaccine and making enough of it for everybody is still faraway, at least one, perhaps two years. Massive lockdowns and distancing measures cannot be sustained that long.
Immunity serological tests
The understanding of the pandemic could be improved by conducting blood serology, to study how many people in countries that have already experienced a first wave of infections, are producing antibodies that are specific to SARS-CoV-2
These tests, which detect antibodies that a person’s immune system produces, could reveal not only who is currently infected but also who has already contracted COVID-19 and recovered, as the antibodies remain present in the body after illness.
But this measure rests on the assumption that those who catch COVID-19 develop and retain immunity to the disease for some time.
A study suggests that monkeys develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after being exposed, at least in the short term. But longer and larger follow-up studies must be done in primates to learn how immunity to the virus persists through time and these findings must still be compared to clinical findings in humans. Even if people develop immunity to one strain of the virus, the pathogen could mutate into a new form and potentially infect those people again. In those cases, obviously, there will be a second wave of infection.
To see us through the next year or more, we must all prepare for the possibility of several cycles during which restrictions are applied and relaxed, in ways that can keep the pandemic under control but at an acceptable economic and social cost.
Going through the pandemic with this approach is like driving a car on a long and tortuous road as we need to keep moving forward without crashing and to safely reach the final destination.
When will the Coronavirus Pandemic end?
Some experts believe our routines will not return to “normal” this year.
At present, the only hope we have is by taking these drastic measures to control the viral spread. Developing a “herd- immunity” will only be possible when enough people survive the illness. Consequently, the incidence of new infections, hospitalisation and mortality rates, would start coming down after peaking.
The difficult reality is that expert’s guesses are just guesses as there is not a concrete answer at the moment.
We can say that the kind of normal where we go traveling, to restaurants, to concerts, to religious services, on cruises, the way it used to be, will not happen until we have a vaccine.
One thing is certain, when we get out of confinement we will not go back to “normal” as it existed in February. However in recent weeks it has become increasingly clear that we must instead accept a “new normal”, at least for the time being.
After what, for some, has been a very extended period in lockdown, you may find that adjusting back to normality proves equally challenging.
It is scary when we see that we still have individuals who are working on the old normal.
Will we rethink the world we want?
Will we stick to patterns that have helped drive temperatures ever higher, or will we develop some new ones?
It is possible that when all this is over, we will revert straight back to something like the “old normal”, or… to some worse version of it.
However, the great hope must be that when we are finally out of quarantine, we will take pleasure in the things we have denied ourselves the past decades, and especially the past months.
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?
To help make the transition period easier we need to accept that any restrictions that remain in place are there to protect the health of the individual and the global community, helping to save lives.
The so called “new normal” has to be viewed as a staging post on a journey forward to a future when we will again, hopefully, live life the way we want.
Best healthy wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice
Consultant in General and Family Medicine