WHO chiefs issue chilling forecast on how long coronavirus pandemic will last
It comes after leading experts have already advised completely ending the virus could take far longer than expected. Ms Swaminathan told the FT’s Global Boardroom digital conference: “I would say in a four to five-year timeframe, we could be looking at controlling this.”
She added that a range of different conditions can influence the timeframe, such as whether the virus mature, control measures implemented, and the development of a vaccine.
She said that a vaccine “seems for now the best way out”, however there were “lots of ifs and buts” about its effectiveness and safety, as well as its production and impartial distribution, the newspaper reported.
Asked about the comments during the WHO’s tri-weekly briefing from Geneva, Dr Mike Ryan, who presides the body’s health emergencies programme, said no one could forecast when the virus would die out.
But he also warned about ending lockdown before implementing appropriate control guidelines adding: “We should not be waiting to see if opening of lockdowns have worked counting the bodies in the morgue.”
He said: “We have a new virus entering the human population for the first time, and therefore it is very hard to predict when we will prevail over it.
“What is clear, and I think maybe what Soumya may have been alluding to, is that the current number of people in our population who’ve been infected is actually relatively low.
“And if you’re a scientist, and you project forward in the absence of a vaccine, and you try and calculate ‘how long is it going to take for enough people to be infected so that this disease settles into an endemic trace’?
“And it is important to put this on the table – this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities. And this virus may never go away.”
“HIV has not gone away, we’ve come to terms with the virus and we have found the therapies and we found the prevention methods, and people don’t feel as scared as they did before and we’re offering long healthy life to people with HIV.”
He added: “I don’t think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear.
“We do have one great hope – if we do find a highly effective vaccine that we can distribute to everyone who needs it in the world, we may have a shot at eliminating this virus.
“But that vaccine will have to be highly effective, it will have to be made available to everyone, and we will have to use it.”
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But referring to unvaccinated populations for diseases like measles, he continued: “Forgive me if I’m cynical. But we have some perfectly effective vaccines on this planet that we have not used effectively for diseases we could eliminate and eradicate and we haven’t done.
“We’ve lacked the will, we have lacked the determination to invest in health systems to deliver that.
“And therefore, science can come up with the vaccine – someone is going to make it and we’ve got to make enough of it so everyone can get a dose of it and we’ve got to be able to deliver that.
“And people have got to want to take that vaccine. Every single one of those steps is fraught with challenges.”
He continued: “It’s a massive opportunity for the world.
“The idea that a new disease could emerge, cause a pandemic, and we could – with a massive moonshot – find a vaccine and give that to everyone who needs it and stop this disease in its tracks will turn, maybe what has been a tragic pandemic, into a beacon of hope for the future of our planet and the way we care for our citizens.”
Speaking about nations easing their lockdowns, Dr Ryan warned that surveillance measures must be implemented or it could be “days or weeks” before officials know the spread is “accelerating” again.
“If that virus transmission accelerates and you don’t have the systems to detect it, it will be days or weeks before you know something has gone wrong,” he continued.
“And by the time that happens, you’re back into a situation where your only response is another lockdown.
“And I think this is what we all fear – a vicious cycle of public health disaster, followed by an economic disaster, followed by public health disaster, followed by economic disaster.”
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