As lockdowns are eased, its tempting to think that the coronavirus is receding, but reported surges in infections around the world indicate that this is far from the case.
Beware the sucker-punch. As people around the world now becoming increasingly emboldened as they venture from their homes after months of lockdown, the temptation is to think that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is behind us. But to think that would be a mistake. Now we are at our most vulnerable and the risk of falling into a false sense of security is high.
All around the world, we are now seeing evidence of the second wave of Covid-19. In June there were one million new cases in eight days. At the end of last month it was reported that a resurgence of the virus is wiping out two months of progress made in tackling the disease in the US. Indeed, in June, the US recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new confirmed cases - the highest level since April - when the number hit 36,400, according to Johns Hopkins University data. It was an alarming spike in infections and led to dire warnings that politicians – in league with a public sick and tired of being cooped up in their homes – were sleepwalking into another health disaster. From a US perspective, though states initially hard-hit by the pandemic – such as New York and New Jersey – are seeing cases decline, other states have had the dubious distinction of setting single-day records – they include: Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s infectious-disease expert, set the tone when he told Congress that a “disturbing surge” in new cases was being observed.
The relentlessness of Covid-19
The relentless nature of the coronavirus was no more clearly illustrated than in China, the source of the original outbreak. It turned out that Beijing was a Covid-free city for just one day. On Tuesday 9 June, the local authorities in Beijing reported that the last active Covid-19 case had been discharged from hospital. However, the next day, Wednesday 10 June, a 52-year old man went to hospital for a checkup and tested positive for the virus. It was the Chinese capital’s first reported case in 55 days, but unfortunately it was just the beginning of a new wave – by 15 June, China was averaging 50 new cases per day. The fear had returned and global markets were getting the jitters again with news of the resurgence of cases in China leading to a slide in the UK’s FTSE 100.
"A resurgence of the virus is wiping out two months of progress made in tackling the disease in the US"
Cases surging in India and Africa
Meanwhile, in the last week, it was reported that hospitals in India are struggling to cope with a Covid-19 surge. Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said a dramatic increase in cases at the beginning of June had places the city’s health system under severe strain and led to a shortage of hospital beds and an increase in fatalities. Delhi is now the part of India that has been worst-hit by the pandemic, with approximately 73,000 recorded Covid-19 cases and at least 2,500 deaths. The infection rate in Delhi – which has a population of around 20 million – is rising faster than anywhere else in the country, with around a third of the total number of infections having been reported as recently as the last week in June.
Elsewhere, cases are spiking dramatically in Africa. One of the continent’s worst hit countries has been Egypt where the number of reported cases doubled in the last three weeks of June to more than 71,000. In total Africa is now dealing with more than 432,000 cases, while more than 10,600 deaths have been reported.
Europe: Getting ready for the next wave
Countries in Europe are also taking steps to minimize the risk of a resurgence in Covid-19 cases. Towards the end of June, North Rhine-Westphalia became the first state in Germany to restore a lockdown after an outbreak of coronavirus at a meat factory. The measure, announced by state premier Armin Laschet, was introduced after more than 1,500 workers tested positive at the plant, which is located near the city of Guetersloh. Meanwhile, in the UK, a significant rise in cases in the city of Leicester meant it became the subject to the UK's first local lockdown. In Spain, where foreign tourists are now heading to the Costa Blanca for their holidays, the city of Valencia has made 6,000 beds available in preparation for a possible Covid-19 resurge.
Are the figures misleading?
However, despite data suggesting many countries around the world are experiencing a second wave of coronavirus, it should be noted that such figures should be treated with caution. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has taken steps to raise awareness that Covid-19 statistics indicating a new surge in cases could be painting a misleading picture. The ECDC says that the reasons behind the apparent increase in the “number or resurgence of cases” being observed vary. A ECDC risk assessment published this week said: “The increase in the number of cases may reflect changes in case ascertainment (for example, increasing testing, changes in the case definition) that does not necessarily indicate increased rates of transmission, or may reflect genuine increases in transmission (for example, associated with the easing of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI), and large localised outbreaks), or may be due to importation of cases.” It continued: “Some of the observed increases, particularly in countries with a small population, are associated with just a few additional new cases. Therefore, information must be interpreted with caution.”
What is certain is that the coronavirus has not gone away. However, there are reasons for optimism – social distancing measures have been effective in reducing the spread of the virus, so as populations we have the capacity to dramatically decrease the associated risks. Undoubtedly the biggest concern is that the public believe, mistakenly, that the worst has past. This is certainly not the case, especially if we dispense with the necessary precautions. The reported increase in cases in countries across the world should serve as a timely reminder that we are not yet out of the woods.