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New infections: is the second wave coming or has the first never ended?

The once strict lockdowns all over the world are beginning to lift. Workers are returning to their jobs, restaurants are doing dinner service and friends and family are meeting again. However, with no herd immunity or vaccine, is this new freedom putting us in danger of a ‘second wave’ of coronavirus?

If we don’t have a vaccine or herd immunity, why have so many countries decided to move out of their lockdowns against the advice of the World Health Organization? Well, many countries have managed to contain the virus, and others simply cannot bear the economic cost any longer. India, for example, has seen a recent spike in positive tests, with the third highest number of cases overall and have still decided to reopen their economy.

Aside from India, countries like the US, Iran, Germany and Switzerland are facing the same challenges.  On July first, many European countries started to reopen borders to breathe life back into the tourism sector. With no choice but to ease lockdowns and allow shops, malls and restaurants to resume business, these countries are also seeing inevitable spikes in coronavirus cases. But are these the first signs of the forbidden ‘second wave’ many news sites are warning about? 

Maybe not. Some experts argue that the very idea of a second wave is flawed. The second wave stems from a comparison to the seasonal flu. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, it was debated that Covid-19 would behave like the flu, as they are both viruses and both cause respiratory infections. However, we know now that these are two very different illnesses. Coronavirus has a much higher death rate, as well as a higher hospitalization rate and severity of infection. The seasonal flu is has a lower summer transmission (and comes in ‘waves’) due to factors like increased UV light, high humidity and less time spent close to people indoors during the summer. But, although we don’t know yet if coronavirus is effected by the seasons, our lack of herd immunity will overpower this seasonal influence. We have seen this before with the 2009 Swine flu pandemic and the 1918 Spanish flu, these viruses did not go away in the summer either, since the population had no immunity toward them. 

Aside from this, another reason the idea of a second wave is flawed, is because the first wave of coronavirus never ended. At the moment, we have a global total of almost 17 million cases, with hundreds of thousands of positive tests per day (as of July 29th). We haven’t managed to flatten the curve, and now many countries have reached their economic breaking point, so to speak, and have no choice but to resume business. Studies have shown that countries with the most relaxed restrictions are seeing the greatest recent spikes in cases. The cause of this isn’t some menacing second wave, but rather people growing comfortable, or impatient, and easing lockdown measures. 

With no vaccine in sight, and no herd immunity our only choice is to stay vigilant. Embracing the new normal, social distancing, and wearing masks is our best chance of keeping cases to a minimum until we have a vaccine.