Worldwide, there have been more than 111,000 infections from Covid-19 and more than 3,800 people have died.
Zhang Jun, the ambassador to the UN, last week said that the decline in cases demonstrated that “we are not far from the coming of the victory”. So is he right?
The outbreak could simply peter out
It is theoretically possible that the new strain of coronavirus might mutate into a less infectious version of itself, and the problem might just go away of its own accord, says Live Science. This is essentially what happened to the Sars outbreak of 2002.
Back then, a virus arose in China and spread to 26 countries around the world before it randomly mutated into something with more severe impact on human health – but which was much less infectious.
Combined with good public health policing, this mutation meant the outbreak “ended up petering out”, says Live Science.
We will become immune
It is also possible that the spread of the virus might be limited once people acquire immunity, through vaccination or from having the infection, says Live Science. This is thought to be what eventually happened during the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918. By that stage, however, the outbreak had killed many millions. Yet, a vaccination is not yet ready and some patients have recovered from coronavirus only to test positive for it again a few weeks later, challenging this theory.
An uncomfortable answer: coronavirus is here to stay
In this scenario, the virus becomes a “fact of life”, says The Washington Post, pointing to what happened in 2009 with the H1N1 outbreak, also known as swine flu. That virus spread quickly, eventually being contracted by 11% to 21% of the population, says the newspaper.
Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told The Atlantic last month he believed between 40% and 70% of people around the world will catch the virus within one year. He has since revised that estimate down to between 20% and 60%.
Vaccination will be ‘crucial’
If the new coronavirus does spread throughout the human population, says the Washington Post, “it will be crucial to develop a vaccine”. After the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, a vaccine was developed that was then added to flu inoculations to protect vulnerable people, particularly the elderly.
Vox quotes Nathan Grubaugh, an epidemiologist at Yale, as saying: “Without an effective vaccine, I don’t know how this ends before millions of infections.” But a vaccine will take time to develop: that’s why public health officials have a vital role to play in helping slow the rate of infection.
Will summer temperatures make the virus ‘go away’?
US President Donald Trump has alarmed experts by spreading misinformation about the outbreak – but could his claim that the virus might “go away” in April when warmer weather hits the US and Europe be true?
Columbia University’s Stephen Morse told Factcheck.org it was “possible” that the virus would fade away in April but “it is wishful thinking”. He added: “I’d say wait until April, we’ll know then if it’s true.”