Coronavirus here to stay as Chinese scientists liken deadly virus to seasonal flu
Their research forms part of a growing consensus among top scientists worldwide that the virus is unlikely to be eliminated despite costly lockdowns that have brought much of the global economy to its knees. More than three million people have now contracted COVID-19 and the global death toll stands at more 210,000.
This is very likely to be an epidemic that co-exists with humans for a long time
And the Chinese researchers say it is unlikely the new virus will disappear the way SARS did 17 years ago as it infects some people without causing obvious symptoms, like fever.
They warned so-called asymptomatic carriers make it hard to fully contain transmission as they can spread the virus undetected.
With SARS, those infected became seriously ill and once they were quarantined from others, the virus stopped spreading.
But, China is still finding dozens of asymptomatic cases of coronavirus every day despite bringing its epidemic under control.
Jin Qi, director of the Institute of Pathogen Biology at China’s top medical research institute, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said the virus would probably become a seasonal flu and “co-exist” with humans.
He said: “This is very likely to be an epidemic that co-exists with humans for a long time, becomes seasonal and is sustained within human bodies.”
And hopes that the virus’s spread will slow as the temperature in northern hemisphere countries rises in the summer have also been dashed by the Chinese experts who said they found no evidence to support this theory.
Wang Guiqiang, head of the infectious diseases department of Peking University First Hospital, said: “The virus is heat sensitive, but that’s when it’s exposed to 56 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes and the weather is never going to get that hot.
“So globally, even during the summer, the chance of cases going down significantly is small.”
Anthony Fauci, the director of US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, suggested last month that COVID-19 could become a seasonal ailment.
And Robin Shattock of Imperial College said when the UK’s lockdown is relaxed another wave of COVID-19 is “highly probable” and could hit at the same time as seasonal flu.
Prof Shattock, who has been working on a vaccine, told The Times: “The real big danger is if we see the kind of number of cases of COVID-19 that we’re seeing now next winter — and we also have a seasonal flu.
“That could be a double whammy for the health service.”
But Prof Shattock said scientists were still learning about COVID-19 and did not know if it would emerge again next winter.
He said: “We don’t know that there’s any seasonality about this virus, but you can imagine that when we start to get back to normal life, possibly over the summer, that cases will ramp up again.”
The Government has insisted it does not want to lift lockdown measures too early as the country is still experiencing a “dangerous moment” in the coronavirus pandemic.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab pointed to a reported increase in COVID-19 cases in Germany when discussing social distancing measures at the daily Downing Street press conference.
Mr Raab said a similar rise in the UK “is a very real risk and it is vital we proceed carefully”.
He said: “We mustn’t gamble away the sacrifices and the progress that we have made – we must continue to follow the scientific evidence and we must continue to take the right decisions at the right moment in time.”
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam also urged caution on the reopening of schools and said ministers would have to be “very careful indeed”.
He said it was “premature” to be discussing heading back to the classroom, but did say the idea was “in the mix” in talks over easing the restrictions.
He also doubted it was possible for young children to keep two metres away from one another in a classroom environment.
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