The epicentre of coronavirus in China, Wuhan reported a cluster of new infections on May 10 weeks after lifting restrictions and restoring normalcy. At least five new cases were reported from the same compound triggering fear of a second wave of the deadly pandemic. A day after, on May 11, China reported one new coronavirus case and 15 asymptomatic infections. Wuhan was the first city in the world to report a case of coronavirus and soon after the pandemic spread to the entire country infecting 82,919 people and killing 4,633.
However, Wuhan is not the only place where coronavirus returned after the curve flattened and cases dropped to zero or single digit. Many reports claim that the disease could come back once the lockdown is lifted and many of the infected could be asymptomatic. Currently, Italy, South Korea, Germany among others are fearing a second wave of infections.
Considering that there is no vaccine or specific treatment for coronavirus, social distancing is the only way people can avoid contracting the disease. Therefore, countries have announced lockdowns to contain the further spread of the virus. However, once the lockdown is lifted, people become vulnerable to infection again. This is because the virus was only contained, and not treated.
"Once we return to normal activity levels, there is a chance that the infection may begin to rise again. China is seeing this to some extent post easing of some restrictions on travel,” Sundaresan, corresponding author of a working paper by researchers at IISc and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai, confirmed this in an interview with PTI.
During a briefing on April 20, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had warned “the worst is yet ahead of us.” Later in the month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield stated that a second wave of the coronavirus would be even “more difficult” than the original.
Experts have time and again warned that the second wave can be more deadly than the initial outbreak. It cannot be ignored that back in 1918, the second wave of the historic influenza outbreak caused most of the deaths in the pandemic.
Even in the case of coronavirus many people who were successfully treated contracted the disease again after testing negative. What is more frightening is the fact that many of them were asymptomatic, meaning that they aren't showing signs of extreme weakness, fever or difficulty in breathing.
Any infectious disease spreads via contact between infectious and susceptible people. If control measures are not in place, the infection can spread as long as the average number of people infected by each infectious person is greater than one.
In case of some diseases, if recovered patients become immune, there will be a trail of immunity and once there are fewer susceptible people, the virus dies out. However, in case of coronavirus where the infection is brought under control through social distancing, only a small portion of the population can develop immunity and as soon as social distancing rules ease the fear of the second wave looms large due to the presence of many susceptible people.
Experts and researchers have been conducting studies to figure out how a second wave of infection can be avoided. Meanwhile, some possible ways to avoid resurgence have been suggested by global experts so far.
The first thing that a country can do is to learn from the first wave, said World Health Organization representative to Russia, Melita Vujnovic, while speaking to an international news agency. She added that the healthcare system will have to work together with the sanitary supervision to track down infected patients until it is clear how immunity is formed. She also emphasized on the need to restrict contacts.
It is believed that one possible way of avoiding a second wave is by achieving 'herd immunity'. Herd immunity is achieved when a large number of people who recover from the disease develop immunity. In this case, the number of susceptible cases is low and eventually, the disease dies out. However, the human cost of such a method is considerably high and 'unacceptable'.
As per reports, Sweden is somewhat trying to achieve herd immunity as it did not impose strict restrictions. The country’s chief epidemiologist reportedly said that racing toward “herd immunity” isn’t an explicit aim of the policy but it’s a helpful threshold he thinks could be achieved within weeks.
However, in case of coronavirus, there is little information available about the possibility of immunity as WHO itself said that there is no such evidence yet.
"There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection," WHO said.
Another way to end the pandemic is the rapid development of a vaccine. Several countries have been racing to come up with a vaccine with Israel recently claiming that it has achieved a threshold. A vaccine can also help achieve herd immunity.
Another action that can possibly help avoid a second wave of infection is a globally coordinated response to eradicate the virus. This method proved successful in the case of SARS in 2003. However, in the case of coronavirus what poses a big challenge is its wider spread as the virus has affected more than 200 countries and infected over 5 million people worldwide.
Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama said people should come together to give a “coordinated, global response” to challenges posed by the crisis.
“This crisis and its consequences serve as a warning that only by coming together in a coordinated, global response, will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face. I pray we all heed ‘The Call to Unite’, he said in a statement released by his office.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also emphasized on the call that the pandemic requires a "strong and coordinated international response".
Among all these a viable solution to keep a second wave at bay is to keep testing any person who shows symptoms even after the curve flattens. New cases should be effectively isolated immediately to avoid further spread of the virus.
As soon as a second wave is suspected with new cases, quick action can help a country contain the infection. South Korea took a similar measure when it closed all bars in Seoul after recording new cases. Through testing, a country can keep tracking and tracing it's new cases to restrict further spread.