As the world grapples with the here and now of the challenges posed to human life and the economy alike, here is a rather well thought through attempt by Ed Yong in The Atlantic at looking into the future broken into three phases: 1) The Next months; 2) The Endgame and 3) The Aftermath.
Ed reckons the emphasis over the next months will be the accelerated production and supply of medical equipment, increased availability of testing kits (great news on this on Friday), social distancing and coherence on behalf of the administration.
“If Trump stays the course, if Americans adhere to social distancing, if testing can be rolled out, and if enough masks can be produced, there is a chance that the country can still avert the worst predictions about COVID-19, and at least temporarily bring the pandemic under control. No one knows how long that will take, but it won’t be quick. “It could be anywhere from four to six weeks to up to three months,” Fauci said, “but I don’t have great confidence in that range.”
Ed’s scenario analysis for the end game is quite interesting – a fairy tale scenario where impeccable coordination amongst nations to kill the pandemic soon, a dangerous ‘herd immunity’ scenario leaving several millions dead and a more likely protracted ‘whack-a-mole’ scenario, “stamping out outbreaks here and there until a vaccine can be produced”. Ed reckons the last one is the best option, but also the longest and most complicated, given even the fastest strategies to produce a vaccine will take at least 12 to 18 months. But what is clear seems to be that the virus will remain part of human life, much like the common flu. What is also likely is that there could be many bouts of the pandemic resulting in humanity to called upon for multiple bouts of social distancing, depending on the unknowns about the seasonality of the virus and the duration of immunity humans are likely to develop against it.
“Whether through accumulating herd immunity or the long-awaited arrival of a vaccine, the virus will find spreading explosively more and more difficult. It’s unlikely to disappear entirely. The vaccine may need to be updated as the virus changes, and people may need to get revaccinated on a regular basis, as they currently do for the flu. Models suggest that the virus might simmer around the world, triggering epidemics every few years or so. “But my hope and expectation is that the severity would decline, and there would be less societal upheaval,” Kissler says. In this future, COVID-19 may become like the flu is today—a recurring scourge of winter. Perhaps it will eventually become so mundane that even though a vaccine exists, large swaths of Gen C won’t bother getting it, forgetting how dramatically their world was molded by its absence.”
The Aftermath however is a mixed bag. Ed prophesies that there will be a significant increase in psychological disorders on the one hand, whilst humanity will also discover a lot of positives to improve daily life including how we treat the environment.
“One could also envisage a future in which America learns a different lesson. A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic. The election of November 2020 becomes a repudiation of “America first” politics. The nation pivots, as it did after World War II, from isolationism to international cooperation. Buoyed by steady investments and an influx of the brightest minds, the health-care workforce surges. Gen C kids write school essays about growing up to be epidemiologists. Public health becomes the centerpiece of foreign policy. The U.S. leads a new global partnership focused on solving challenges like pandemics and climate change. In 2030, SARS-CoV-3 emerges from nowhere, and is brought to heel within a month.”
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