25th March 2020 – (Hong Kong) Many countries around the world are closing borders and locking down cities to stop the spread of COVID-19 but such measures are not “sustainable,” said an expert on infectious disease epidemiology. Countries that implemented lockdowns, both full and partial include the U.K., Italy, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and China. Others such as Singapore chose stricter social distancing measures such as shutting entertainment outlets, but kept schools open.

“The idea of a lockdown is really an emergency measure to bring the numbers down as quickly as possible, the number of new cases, but it’s not a sustainable way to keep the coronavirus out,” said Ben Cowling, a professor at The University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health.

Dr. Ho Pak-Leung from Center for Infection and Infectious Diseases, Hong Kong University warned today that if the government does not launch martial law-level measures to prevent crowds from gathering, the Hospital Authority is expected to collapse next week and the medical system will fail.

The entire notion of restricting movement of people around the world may be effective only in delaying the epidemic from spreading and to reduce pressure on the health care system. In particular, the unprecedented move by Indian government to impose a nationwide lockdown from for 21 days to stem the spread of the coronavirus is commendable as the highly populated and poor nation is a time bomb before the pandemic explodes amongst its citizens. South Asia and Africa could potentially become the colossal epicentre during the next wave after United States. These nations are under-equipped to cope with the magnitude of an outbreak and it will be the most arduous test since the existence of mankind.

Humans do not like to have their freedom restricted. Despite the advice of many country leaders to stay at home and to keep social distancing, citizens worldwide including Australia and US continued to go out and flock the beaches until the government stood firm by imposing bans. 43% of the US population is now being asked to stay home.

Since the last decade, the travel industry has boomed exponentially and most people can now fly all over the world at affordable prices as budget airlines continue to offer air tickets as low as the cost of a bottle of wine.

After weeks and months of lockdown or restriction of movement, most of us will become so bored and many will be eager to travel around the world after air travel ban is lifted and if the total number of COVID-19 cases were to drop significantly in the near future.

Hong Kong, one of the first places outside mainland China to see cases of infections, also provides a model for a return of increased local infected cases when citizens became laxer and returned to work. Numbers had been stable in Hong Kong when that decision was made, but imported infections combined with a lack of social distancing soon led to a new wave of local cases.  There were many new local cases linked to the LKF-cluster, wedding reception in Discovery Bay and a private party attended by over 100 people at Studio 9, Wong Chuk Hang. There were no new cases in Macau for 40 days after all casinos including related industries and entertainment outlets suspended business operations for 2 weeks. However, recent imported cases have prompted the local government to close its borders to visitors.

According to CNN, in the summer of 2008, an elderly psychic who claimed she started receiving premonitions at age 5 published a book that contained an ominous prediction.” In around 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments,” it said. “Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again ten years later, and then disappear completely.”The prediction faded from public memory and the book’s author, Sylvia Browne, died in 2013. But the coronavirus pandemic has brought new attention to Browne’s book, “End of Days: Predictions and Prophecies About the End of the World.” It’s shot up to No. 2 on Amazon’s nonfiction chart, and physical copies are now selling for hundreds of dollars.

How long will social distancing for coronavirus have to last? 

The best and most honest reply, according to epidemiologists and virologists, is simple: “It depends.” It’s not going to be over anytime soon, a matter of months rather than weeks.

As long as either the antidote or vaccine for COVID-19 virus is not available commercially, the chance of a pandemic recurring will be high. Residents of China’s Hubei province received good news yesterday when government officials announced the lockdown they have been living under for the past few months will be lifted today. For those in Wuhan, where the virus was first discovered, those restrictions are set to remain in place until 8th April. Almost all of the recent cases reported in China are imported. Hence, once countries around the world start to lift their air travel ban, people will start to travel eagerly around the world and this will be the time for the pandemic to strike again as everyone becomes laxer by taking less precautionary measures.

In fact, even if countries like China and South Korea can successfully bring the total number of cases under control, the moment they reopen their borders, imported cases can trigger a fresh round of epidemic. Air China, China Eastern and China Southern which suspended flights to San Francisco in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak earlier, have now resumed their services as the epidemic situation continues to improve in China. China Eastern will resume daily flights between SFO and Shanghai, whilst Air China is operating Beijing flights at an undetermined frequency. China Southern resumed four weekly flights from Guangzhou. The number of imported cases could potentially trigger a second wave in China.

Recently, there was also classified government data leaked by local media that shows more than 43,000 so-called silent carriers were not counted in the number of confirmed cases in China by the end of February. When silent carriers are taken into account, the number of infected people on the mainland exceeds 120,000. If there are silent carriers around us who do not display symptoms, this means that the virus will linger even longer amongst us. Silent carriers can spread the virus easily amongst the local community even though the borders are shut. As of today, two video editors with no travel history from NOW TV station in Hong Kong have tested positive.

It is virtually impossible to eradicate the infection all over the world unless everyone starts to become a hermit for at least 1 month.

According to PMLIVE, researchers from Oxford University in the UK say they will start clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine next month, while another vaccine developed by Chinese military scientists has been given to patients for the first time. The Oxford team started work on a vaccine on 10 January, shortly after the genetic sequence of the COVID-19 virus was published by Chinese researchers working in the source of the outbreak in Wuhan. A lead candidate has now been identified to take forward into human testing. Meanwhile, the Chinese trial got underway over the weekend, according to local news reports, and is enrolling 108 residents of Wuhan, aged between 18 and 60, who will be randomised to three dose groups.

The volunteers will be isolated for 14 days after dosing with the adenovirus-based Ad5-nCoV shot developed in collaboration with CanSino Biologics, and monitored for six months. The vaccine has already been tested on animals without any toxicology issues, and appears to be capable of eliciting immunity against the virus, according to the biotech.

It will take at least over 15 months before a vaccine or antidote were to become commercially available. Till then, the chance of eradicating the virus completely may seem bleak if self-discipline is not demonstrated and the way we see it, COVID-19 pandemic will become a vicious cycle of high and low seasons until we see the light at the end of the tunnel.