How long will the COVID-19 pandemic last and when will measures like physical distancing be lifted? Such questions are top of mind for officials around the world, but the unprecedented scale of the outbreak means there’s no easy answer.
Vivek Goel, the University of Toronto’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives, and a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, discussed the many unknowns surrounding COVID-19 in a recent op-ed for the Globe and Mail. He writes that efforts to “flatten the curve” – slow the disease’s transmission and spread cases out over time – are important to “protect those most vulnerable to more severe disease and to help to ensure our health-care system can manage and support those individuals.”
However, the strategy is also “based on simulations based on assumptions derived from past experiences,” with Goel noting that no two infectious disease outbreaks are the same.
While COVID-19 is fast becoming the most studied disease in history, Goel points out that “there are still many basics we don’t fully understand, such as the true risk of transmission and the mortality rate.” That means it’s impossible to predict when social and economic restrictions will be lifted, he said.
“As difficult as the decisions to impose these measures were, the decisions as to when to lift them will be even more difficult.”