The second wave

10 Jul 2020

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EIGHT months after the first case of Covid-19 was reported in China, the fast-spreading, potentially fatal coronavirus is still on the rampage. Many countries, including the UK, Spain, France and China have started to reopen as infection rates and the number of deaths drop in the aftermath of strict lockdowns. But as some countries celebrate their success in curtailing transmission, fears of a ‘second wave’ of infection are very real. This term applies to countries that went through a ‘peak phase’ during which Covid-19 cases soared, managed to lower the curve and then experienced a second peak. In the UK, which is among the worst-hit countries, the peak phase saw up to 1,000 deaths and 8,000 new cases in a single day. In the absence of a scientific definition of the ‘second wave’, it can be described as the period when the number of infections goes back up and marks a sustained increase — a scenario which is to be expected in countries that have lifted lockdown restrictions. In the absence of a vaccine, it is inevitable that Covid-19 will spread as restrictions end and people leave their homes. Early indications of a second wave are coming from Spain, France and even Australia which had celebrated taming the virus and reducing daily infections. In the UK, the possibility of a second wave is not being ruled out. The situation has compelled many to draw a comparison with the second wave of the Spanish flu, which reportedly killed more people than the first wave.

The likelihood of any country being coronavirus-free without strict restrictions in place or an effective vaccine, is non-existent. Infection, hospitalisation and death rates can only be minimised if SOPs are followed. As countries prepare to tackle the next round of peak infections, their success will be linked to public policy measures. Several countries have decided against mass lockdowns due to the economic and psychological effects of one-size-fits-all restrictions. Hence, many leaders prefer targeted lockdowns — as seen in Pakistan — where hotspots with high infection rates will be locked down. The key to these policies lies in mass testing. Without a high number of daily tests, it will be impossible to assess how quickly cases are rising and what level of risk Covid-19 carriers pose to members of the public. Mass testing, systematic data gathering, the enforcement of SOPs and improved hospital support appear to be the only way to protect citizens.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2020