Coronavirus

The Coronavirus Is Officially a Pandemic. What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Numerous countries are now dealing with COVID-19. An expert says we may need to start learning how to live normally with this virus.
March 13, 2020, 8:13am
coronavirus worst case scenario
Passengers wearing protective face masks disembark from a ferry in Hong Kong on February 22, 2020. Photo by VIVEK PRAKASH / AFP. 

The novel coronavirus has filled global headlines since January. The world watched with bated breath as the potentially deadly disease spread across China and slowly made its way to the rest of the world.

Mandatory temperature checks and face masks have become the new normal. Rising figures of infected cases around the world are now a regular segment on the news. Together, we are learning to grapple with the epidemic in our own ways.

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As of writing, there are 128,343 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 4,720 deaths in the world.

Some believe that the coronavirus will dissipate during the summer, but there is currently no evidence that warmer weather will naturally put an end to the pandemic.

So, what do we do if the coronavirus becomes a long-term reality? What’s next and what does a future with COVID-19 look like?

VICE spoke with Dr. Dale Fisher, a professor of infectious diseases at the National University of Singapore and the chairman of the World Health Organisation’s Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, about bracing ourselves for what’s next.

VICE: Do you think the worst of the coronavirus is over?

Fisher: No. I believe more epicentres will spring up in the next weeks and months. I think some of those epicentres will struggle particularly in areas where the health systems are not strong already, so they’ll have a lot of difficulty managing the outbreak.

In countries where there’s already suspicion of government activities, they’ll have trouble engaging as one against the virus. Some countries have already got health systems that are struggling to meet the current need, so obviously if there’s a surge of cases of COVID-19, they will naturally struggle to contain this.

How far away do you think we are from a vaccine?

No one expects a vaccine until next year. And then, it has to be scaled up and it has to be administered. You also have to prove that the vaccine is safe and effective.

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What would also be nice is if there was a treatment. If some of the treatment trials show that a drug works, that also changes the situation a lot, because we would not mind people getting infected.

So what’s next?

China and Singapore are now talking about how we can undo this and start to return to normal. How do we live with this infection?

How do you think we can go back to normal?

There’s been a lot of drastic measures in countries like China and Singapore in response to the coronavirus.

[So now, the thought is] how does China reopen its flights, trains, and roads? And the travel bans between provinces? How do we get industry going again? How do we reopen restaurants? That should be done in a graded way, so that not everything changes overnight.

As for Singapore, how do we get back to normal health care? How do we start redoing elective surgery? All these sort of things. We certainly don’t want to do things in a hurry. But there are definitely discussions about how we move to the next phase.

Are you confident that if the virus worsens in Singapore, that the government is capable of containing it?

If there was a big outbreak in Singapore, I think they can. I think Singapore has really taken advantage of this lead time. You know, it's now been a couple of months since we've known about the virus. We've been learning, trying to get back to some sort of normal life. So, you know, if nothing else, there's interesting times ahead.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.