Almost all experts agree that SARS-CoV-2 will eventually become a seasonal flu. But what will the road to this perennial “coexistence” be like?
One thing is for certain: there’s still a long way to go. More than a year after SARS-CoV-2 began to make its presence felt, we’re still talking about lockdowns, treatments and cures that don’t stem the spread of the virus, and vaccines that, despite their early availability, have yet to be administered across most of the population.
When will all this end? No one knows, and we can imagine that there will be no specific time, but rather a slow process that will bring us to a number of infections and deaths per day that will no longer throw hospitals into crisis.
In this first article of our three-part series, we’ll focus on the short-term (i.e. from now, through to the Autumn of 2021).
COVID in the short-term and the impact of variants
Infection trends around the world are fluctuating, clearly dependent upon the implementation of restrictions and consequently, lockdowns. In addition, there’s now the vaccination variable, whose influence in Israel is already evident but in other nations has yet to reveal itself. The next country that may provide us with confirmation on the impact of vaccination on the spread of the new Coronavirus is the UK, which has chosen a unique vaccination strategy within Europe (we discussed this in this article) and is moving at a significantly higher speed than anyone else in Europe.
To further complicate the scenario there are the variants; to date, the most important for diffusion are the UK Variant (B.1.1.7), the South African Variant (B.1.351) and the Brazilian Variant (B.1.1.28). The one most expected to be beaten of the SARS-CoV-2 strains, currently more widespread in Europe, is the UK Variant, already quite widespread.
Currently available vaccines seem to be effective as well on SARS-CoV-2 variants, if confirmed; vaccinations would provide us with a lot of help in containing the spread of the infection. However, it’s clear now that for the Summer, no European country will achieve herd immunity, but the most fragile population; elderly, chronically ill and multi-pathological, will be protected, along with health-care workers who will have been vaccinated.
Summer and Autumn scenarios
A plausible scenario, is that for the Summer, instead of having a massive spread of SARS-CoV-2 over the entire continent, we may have outbreaks, more or less extensive but hopefully easier to control. People will be outdoors more and will tend to be spread out between beach and mountain areas.
Then Autumn will come, the cold weather will arrive and if we haven’t taken better precautions than last year, we’ll again have an increase in the spread of the virus: probably with widespread outbreaks. At this point, the immunization of the vaccinated and of those who’ve already contracted the virus in previous months will be crucial. No one knows the duration of the immunization and even whether the current vaccines are also effective against variants. For this reason it’ll be essential to monitor, through the sequencing of the virus, the spread of variants, in order to take the necessary countermeasures and to verify the possible appearance of other variants potentially more contagious (see here for more details).
The good news is that probably, even if other variants appear (which is very likely), those who’ve been vaccinated will demonstrate milder symptoms in case of reinfection. We’ll probably have to pay closer attention to the rules of physical distancing and the use of protective equipment for younger people who’ll certainly not be vaccinated before next Autumn and therefore will still be an important vessel for the spread of the virus.
In my opinion, there will be more than one light at the end of the tunnel between now and the next six months, but unfortunately not so intense as to allow us to completely drop our guard.
This post is also available in: Italiano