COVID-19 pandemic is "one big wave" says WHO

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The COVID-19 pandemic that has gripped the world has to date infected over 16.95 million individuals and taken more than 665,000 lives. Now the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that this pandemic could cause a Tsunami of cases, and there is no scope for complacency in regions where numbers have declined.

Image  Credit: zstock / Shutterstock
Image Credit: zstock / Shutterstock

Wave patterns

In many regions around the world, there has been a surge in cases over the past three months, and in other areas where lockdowns were enforced earlier and then relaxed case numbers are rising again in a second wave. In some countries such as in Hong Kong, there has been a resurgence in the number of cases, says the WHO. One of the officials at WHO said that this had been called the "second wave" of infections. The WHO warns that this wave pattern is unlikely with a pandemic such as this.

The experts at the organization believe the fluctuations in COVID-19 cases should not be described as waves because the pandemic and this particular virus is acting differently from earlier endemic experiences.

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh explained, "'second wave' isn't a term that we would use [in epidemiology] at the current time, as the virus hasn't gone away, it's in our population, it has spread to 188 countries so far, and what we are seeing now is essentially localized spikes or a localized return of a large number of cases." there has been no approval for the term "second wave" she said.

One big wave

Margaret Harris, a WHO spokesperson, said in a statement from Geneva, "We are in the first wave. It's going to be one big wave. It's going to go up and down a bit. The best thing is to flatten it and turn it into just something lapping at your feet." She was speaking at a virtual briefing.

Effect of seasons

The WHO, as well as other health officials, has urged all countries and policymakers to keep the pandemic in mind and keep up the restrictions. The WHO says that unlike influenza, the coronavirus spread and infection are not showing seasonal variations. Influenza typically shows a surge in cases in early winters and spring. The experts warn that this pandemic can remain unabated in summer in the northern hemisphere, and there is thus no scope for complacency.

According to Harris, the proof that summer does not affect the transmission and infectiousness of the SARS-CoV-2  is the number of cases in the summer season in the United States. She warned that allowing mass gatherings and opening up areas where a large number of people can gather together could be dangerous. She said, "People are still thinking about seasons. What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus and... this one is behaving differently... Summer is a problem. This virus likes all weather."

Concept of second wave flawed

Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control, also said that the concept of a second wave is flawed because it does not aid in understanding the pattern the pandemic will take once the flu season begins. Experts say that what looks like a second wave could be a delayed onset of the first wave of infections in a different region of the same country.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor in the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, called "second wave" a "media term" rather than an epidemiological or scientific one. He said, "What we are seeing are spikes in many countries, and in Leicester [in the UK] and other places. Some people might call these waves, but if they do, we are looking at dozens of waves. Even in Australia [in the state of Victoria], there is clearly an upturn, but the disease was only at low levels to start with, so it's down to a vague terminology."

COVID-19 and influenza in the southern hemisphere

The WHO experts are worried about the overlap of cases of COVID-19 and influenza in the southern hemisphere where it is colder now. The health organization is keeping a close watch on the number of cases of COVID-19 and influenza in the southern hemisphere.

According to Harris, the cases of influenza have not shown their usual surge expected during this season in these regions. She said, "If you have an increase in a respiratory illness when you already have a very high burden of respiratory illness that puts even more pressure on the health system." Harris and other experts have recommended the general population to get vaccinated against influenza to reduce the risk of getting infected by the influenza virus.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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