As U.S. states and countries across the world begin to gradually lift coronavirus lockdowns, experts and officials are ramping up warnings about the possibility of a second—and more deadly—wave of the pandemic.
- On Friday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo—who is leading the coronavirus strategy in the global epicenter for the virus, New York City—said that “there’s a good chance this virus comes back,” adding “we need to start getting ready now.”
- On Tuesday, Lothar Wieler, the president of the Robert Koch Institute and a leading disease expert in Germany said that a second wave is likely, along with a third wave, while the Spanish army has also predicted two waves, according to internal documents seen by Associated Press.
- Without a readily available vaccine—with optimistic estimates putting that in 2021 at the earliest—we are likely to continue seeing new cases, like in Seoul, where a new cluster tied to nightclubs emerged after restrictions were relaxed.
- There’s a risk of new infections in the U.S. as governors roll back their stay-at-home orders, and states are still working on ramping up coronavirus testing and contact tracing, two tried and true tools to prevent new infections.
- While built up immunity could help prevent new cases, a London-based study released this week found evidence that the virus only began to spread among humans in late 2019, dashing earlier hopes that it had begun earlier, infected more people and allowed populations to build immunity.
- The British researchers estimated that worldwide, only 10% of people have been exposed to the virus, but Wieler has said that between 60% to 70% of the population would have to be infected before the virus is no longer a threat.
"In my mind, it's inevitable that we'll have a return of the virus,” Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s leading infectious disease doctor and member of the White House coronavirus task force told Bloomberg in late April. “When it does, how we handle it will determine our fate.”
Even as far back as March, Fauci said a return of new infections was “highly likely.”
There’s a historical precedence to be wary of second waves; the second wave of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic—believed to have infected 500 million people, or a third of the world’s population—was more deadly than the first, and was more devastating for infected young people.
On Saturday, Johns Hopkins University reported more than 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections and about 278,000 deaths worldwide.