By now, everyone has heard the foreshadowing of the ominous second wave of COVID-19. Banded around by politicians, journalists, and everyday people alike, it is feared more than the initial wave. Not necessarily because we know it’s definitely coming, but because we don’t know when. No one wishes to live through a national lockdown for a second time, the first was bad enough.
To avoid such measures, every person in the UK needs to remain stringent to the guidance and attempt to understand COVID-19 as much as they possibly can. In a pandemic such as the one we are all experiencing, being educated is of paramount importance.
The possibility of the UK experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 depends on many factors. For the coronavirus to multiply again, causing a second wave, it needs two things.
First, it needs a supply of susceptible and infected hosts, who are able to carry the coronavirus and spread it amongst the immediate population. Second, it needs successful transmission from person to person. The COVID-19 pathogen, SARS-CoV-2, spreads via droplet transmission through the respiratory system, making a person most susceptible to infection via their nose and mouth, but also through their eyes.
Both these things which enable the pathogen to multiply are made even more possible by relaxing the social behaviour guidance, which the vast majority of people have stringently stuck to since early March. By relaxing social distancing, the wearing of face masks, and regular hand washing, the coronavirus will spread easier and at greater speed. In order to prevent a second wave from appearing, social behaviour must be a top priority not just for the government, but for everyone in British society.
Of course, upholding reserved social behaviour will not completely stop the spread of COVID-19 amongst society. Asymptomatic transmission is a common theme with this particular coronavirus, as the pathogen can hibernate in a person’s body, displaying no symptoms, for up to two weeks. Thus, people can contract COVID-19 and never experience symptoms at all, but nevertheless remain infectious to others. There are, however, mitigating circumstances and actions that the government and the general population ought to take to make transmission even more difficult.
Naturally, a vaccine is vital. If a vaccine can be created and made available for mass distribution and use, the supply of susceptible hosts which the pathogen requires to multiply will rapidly decrease. Trials at the University of Oxford are making sound progress, but there is no concrete date as to if or when an effective vaccine will be available for general consumption before the second wave hits. Indeed, a vaccine may not even be available until Christmas, at which point a second wave may already have hit.
Moreover, recent polling has shown that nearly half of British society would refuse or have strong reservations against being given the COVID-19 vaccine. These ‘anti-vaxxers’ would make a vaccine all but useless, with experts stating that roughly 60% of British society would need to achieve immunity from COVID-19 for ‘herd immunity’ to ensue. If these vaccination sceptics refuse to use the vaccine, then herd immunity will not only be far more difficult, it will take far longer to achieve.
Alongside the search for a vaccine, there needs to be relentless government action to test, track, and contain any regional outbreaks, something which was not done in the first wave. These responses are vital in maintaining the suppression of regional R values. By keeping the R value – the average number of infections caused by one infected person – equal to or below 1, the coronavirus should ultimately die out amongst a population, as each infected person will gradually infect less people as time passes.
Suppressing these regional outbreaks continually and in real-time are a vital part of containing the coronavirus to as limited a population as possible. If the government fail to contain the spread of COVID-19 to its immediate footprint, the national R value will begin to rise, forcing another national lockdown, the last of which had drastic effects on the economy – indeed, as this article is being written, it has been declared that the UK has fallen into one of the worst recessions in national economic history.
There are many other ways that both the government and the public can prevent successful transmission and infection. Strengthening personal immune systems and effectively funding and preparing the NHS to name but a few. Ultimately, there needs to be a long-term plan communicated effectively by the government to the public, that simultaneously mitigates the short-term threats – local lockdowns and effective testing – and the long-term threats – the coronavirus re-appearing after long durations of dormancy, known as a ‘pendulum swing’ pandemic.
In this same spirit, the government must look past the second wave and begin plans to mitigate a third wave, which may not even concern COVID-19 at all. A third wave may contain a surge in other diseases and infections, which have built up over time due to medical neglect. Various cancers, syndromes, and other illnesses have been forgotten in this national crisis in favour of COVID prevention. A third wave will look entirely different to the first and second, in which the NHS, instead of battling one crisis, may have to face multiple simultaneously.
Only effective and continuous action can manage a second wave so that it remains a mere bump in the road rather than resembling the catastrophic first wave that destroyed so many families and took so many loved ones before their time.
As confirmed cases in the UK begin to rise again, both the government and the public must remember the guidance, and conform to it as much as possible.
We know a great deal more about COVID-19 now than we did in early March. Let’s prove it.
Words by William Cooper.