Over 200 million could be COVID-19 positive by 2021 – Research
By Charles Lotara
More than 200 million people could be infected globally by the novel coronavirus if the right treatment is not found by the year 2021, a chilling research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reckons.
The research finding conducted in 84 countries indicates that by that estimated period, the COVID-19 global death toll would have hit between 1.4million to 3.7million people when over 90% of the world’s population will still be vulnerable to infection, especially if immunity turns out to be transient.
But according to health experts, the actual outcome depends on how societies manage the virus. Some good news here. Epidemiologists understand how to stop covid-19. The virus can still be contained with three tactics: changes in behaviour; testing, tracing and isolation; and, if they fail, lockdowns. The worse a country is at testing – something governments have failed to be build enough capacity to facilitate – the more it has to fall back on the other two.
Although improvement in handling patients is being recorded, mass vaccination is still months away. Also, the research says, more is known about how to manage the disease – don’t rush to put people on respirators, do give them oxygen early. Better treatment helps explain why the share of hospital patients who went on to be admitted to intensive care in Britain fell in some countries at the end of March and rising in some by late May.
As nationwide lockdowns continue to hold in most countries, governments can make sensible trade-offs – banning large indoor gatherings, say and allowing the reopening of schools and shops. Sometimes, however, when restrictions are loosen too much, countries would have to reverse the course. Others will learn from their mistakes.
The problem is that, without a cure or a vaccine, containment depends on people learning to change their behaviour. After the initial covid-19 panic, many are becoming disenchanted and resistant. Masks help stop the disease, but in South Sudan many refuse to wear one because they see them as emasculating. Thorough handwashing kills the virus, but who has not relapsed into bad old habits? Parties are dangerous but young people cooped up for months have developed a devil-may-care attitude. Most important, as the months drag on, people just need to earn some money. In the autumn, as life moves indoors, infections could soar.
Changing social norms is hard. Just look at AIDs, known for decades to be prevented by safe sex and clean needles. Yet in 2018, 1.7m people were newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes it. Covid-19 is easier to talk about than AIDs, but harder to avoid. Wearing a mask is chiefly about protecting others; the young, fit and asymptomatic are being asked to follow tedious rules to shield the old and infirm.
Changing behaviour requires clear communication from trusted figures, national and local. But many people do not believe their politicians. In countries such as America, Iran, Britain, Russia and Brazil, which have the highest caseloads, presidents and prime ministers minimised the threat, vacillated, issued bad advice or seemed more interested in their own political fortunes than in their country—sometimes all at once.
Covid-19 is here for a while at least. The vulnerable will be afraid to go out and innovation will slow, creating a 90% economy that consistently fails to reach its potential. Many people will fall ill and some of them will die. You may have lost interest in the pandemic. It has not lost interest in you.