Coronavirus with us “for all eternity”: epidemiologist

A infectious diseases expert has likened to COVID-19 to a “super forest fire” and said it’s not going anywhere – the only question is how we live with it.  

A health worker takes a patient's temperature before a COVID-19 test. Picture: VALERIE MACON / AFP.
An infectious diseases expert has said that COVID will be “with us humans for all eternity”. 

Director of the University of Minnesota’s Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy Dr Mike Osterholm said the coronavirus crisis was different to other pandemics likening it to a “super forest fire”.

There have now been 21,500,000 COVID-19 cases globally with 775,000 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Centre. The US alone has reported over 170,000 deaths from the virus.

Following relatively successful lockdowns many countries are now seeing an uptick in new infections as they relax restrictions.

Dr Osterholm told Irish state broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE) that COVID-19 was not coming in waves like other pandemics.

We weren’t sure what this coronavirus would do because we’ve never witnessed a pandemic of a coronavirus before. Now we know it’s kind of a super forest fire.
It just keeps burning and burning and burning wherever there is human wood, he told RTE’s This Week program on Sunday.
We released the public back into everyday life long before the cases had decreased. And it came back in a very big way.

Ireland has recorded 1774 deaths. That’s higher than Australia but far below its nearest neighbour the UK both in terms of total deaths and mortality per 100,000 people.

However, new infections in the state of five million are rising once again with 66 cases reported in Sunday.

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Micheal Martin said yessterday the numbers were “deeply concerning”.

Dr Osterholm said it was likely the virus was now “with us humans for all eternity”.

We are unfortunately in a world that will always have it circulating somewhere. The question is going to be how well do we control it, he said.

Pandemics usually end because the virus works its way through the population leading to a level of immunity which slows transmission, the virus mutates into something less troubling or a treatment of some kind is found.

A vaccine was one way of coexisting with COVID-19, Dr Osterholm said, but it was unlikely to be a panacea.

There may the people who respond least to the vaccine, he said.
So one of the challenges will be protecting the people most likely to be at risk.

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