To visualize how the anticipated end of COVID-19 can unfold, we analyze three scenarios below. Of course, other developments can influence these scenarios, leading to different outcomes. However, the following gives a general trajectory of where we can be headed.
In the most optimistic case, we could follow the Far East’s path. China’s swift and strict lockdowns led to the cases of new infections to plummet by March, according to official reports. South Korea had a success story thanks in part to surveillance, with individual bank transactions and phone use tracked to identify those infected. Such stringent measures might not be applicable everywhere; but drastic measures are effective to curb the spread as shown by an analysis from the Imperial College London. With these in place, we could bring the pandemic under control and gradually resume economic activity by the middle of the year.
The second, most likely scenario, could follow the trajectory most countries are following; enforcing lockdowns and reducing social contact while tracking those infected. However, many countries adopted such measures late or even downplayed the severity of the virus. The U.S. wanted to ease its lockdown, while the U. K. flirted with the idea of “herd immunity” but revisited this decision. Sweden, on the other hand, already put a similar concept into practice, with mild restrictions and no lockdowns, worrying local experts. We’ve seen how overwhelmed healthcare facilities are getting, with lack of proper equipment and jam-packed wards due to the uncontrolled spread of the contagion. Even those countries that contained the spread could face a second wave of infections if restrictions are lifted too early. This will lead to even more severe lockdowns and have us battle with COVID-19 the majority of the year.
Lastly, we have the worst case scenario and thankfully, the least likely one. The virus could brave through summer and thrive again in winter, leading to subsequent outbreaks. The overburdened healthcare systems around the world would crumble; mortality rate would shoot to 8-10%; and we would be relegated to wait for an effective vaccine.
What will definitely happen
While we can speculate on what will happen and wait to see the rest, certain aspects of the current situation will surely linger post-COVID-19. We probably won’t go down the same route as Demolition Man when it comes to bodily fluids and physical contact, at least not any time soon, but changes to our ingrained habits are bound to happen .
Now that surveillance helped to track the novel coronavirus’ spread in some countries, governments will enforce such measures under the guise of public health safety. Israel allowed its internal security agency to use phone location data in the pandemic; Singapore launched an opt-in version; and South Korea used data from CCTV footage, bank activity and phone use. These will raise new issues about privacy and ethics, as it already has in South Korea.
Given the nature of COVID-19’s transmission, people around the world will take time to readjust to working as a “global community”. We will have doubts about traveling, commuting and even working next to each other. We’re already seeing symptoms of social anxiety and agoraphobia exacerbate due to the pandemic. It will take time to trust the world and its functioning.
One of the pandemic’s key terms, social distancing, will be a part of our lives in the coming months. The Imperial College London’s analysis already warns of “hundreds of thousands of deaths” without social distancing. Both as a preventive measure and as a new-formed habit, social distancing will prevail long after borders open .