Scientists from the University of Minnesota called on global health authorities to brace for “the worst-case scenario” that assumes a second, larger wave by the end of 2020.
Rabat – Researchers from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota published a report outlining future COVID-19 scenarios on April 30, concluding that the pandemic will likely last for 18 to 24 months.
CIDRAP is a prominent global health institution that contributed to, among others, the studies on an Ebola vaccine and influenza since the center’s creation in 2001.
The academic team created the report on “The future of the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned from pandemic influenza“ to “add key information and address issues that have not garnered the attention they deserve,” explained Mike Osterholm, the director of CIDRAP.
“Our hope is that our effort can help you plan more effectively and understand the many aspects of this pandemic more clearly—and for you and your family, friends, and colleagues to be safer,” Osterholm added.
The researchers used influenza outbreaks as their main comparative model to create predictions, although data from SARS and MERS were included as well.
COVID-19 has an average incubation period of five days, which is longer than in the case of influenza. COVID-19 also has a higher number of asymptomatic infections—25%, according to Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—and a higher average number of new infections that a single contaminated person can spread.
The findings, combined with a low probability that the vaccine will be available for the general public before the end of 2020, brought a conclusion that the virus “likely will not be halted until 60% to 70% of the population is immune.”
Three visions of the future
The CIDRAP team created three scenarios for the development of COVID-19 over the next two years.
The first version predicts that the first wave of the pandemic will be followed by repetitive smaller waves that occur consistently, diminishing in 2021. The waves will vary geographically and their intensity will depend on governments’ prevention measures. Under the scenario, the world will keep experiencing the returns of lockdowns.
The second scenario foresees the hardest global hit: The first wave will be followed by a larger one by the end of 2020 before the virus starts reappearing in smaller waves in 2021. The pattern is based on trends from 1918-19 during an influenza pandemic, and, more recently, during the 2009-2010 H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic.
The last scenario predicts a “slow burn” occurring after the spring wave, one in which no clear wave pattern can be identified. The third version is the most optimistic as the “slow burn” will probably not require reinstituting any mitigation measures.
‘Health authorities should plan for the worst-case scenario’
The researchers’ most important recommendation alerts global health authorities to prepare for the second scenario, which includes no vaccine available or no herd immunity yet achieved.
CIDRAP urged governments to come up with coherent plans on how to reinstitute prevention measures and manage the disease peaks in real-time, as well as to ensure the protection of healthcare workers so that they can deal with the cases surging.
“Risk communication messaging from government officials should incorporate the concept that this pandemic will not be over soon and that people need to be prepared for possible periodic resurgences of disease over the next 2 years,” the report concluded.