Coronavirus is with us for good, and is a genie that cannot be put back in its bottle, Dr. Vitaliy Zverev, a respected virologist specializing in molecular biology and pathogenic microorganisms who serves as chief of the Moscow-based Mechnikov Science and Research Institute of Vaccines, believes.
“It’s necessary to understand that this virus has come to the human population not for today, not until summer, not until fall. It has come for many, many years, maybe even permanently. Seventy percent of the planet’s population will go through this infection,” Zverev said, speaking on the 60 Minutes programme on Russia-1 Friday evening.
Zverev also believes that if testing for COVID-19 was more widespread, including in Russia, the infection rate would prove to be significantly higher than it is today, while the accompanying mortality rate would show to be much lower than it is at present.
“The mortality rate is not five percent, but less than that of the flu. This is an infection with which we will have to live, similarly as we live with the flu, with the adenovirus,” the veteran academic believes.
Comparing mortality rates from coronavirus infections and influenza in the United States – currently the country with the highest number of infections, Zverev suggests that even though the flu epidemic in the United States has been weaker than normal this year, more Americans have died from the disease than from COVID-19.
Medical Debate Rages
Not everyone in the medical community agrees with Dr. Zverev’s assessment regarding just how much of a danger the new coronavirus poses.
Among the problems commonly described by scientists which are said to make COVID-19 more dangerous are a lack of a vaccines, lack of herd immunity, and long incubation time, which makes it more likely that persons infected with the virus will pass it on to someone else before exhibiting any symptoms. On Saturday, for instance, Russian authorities reported that a quarter of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Russia haven’t shown any symptoms.
Some scientists have also pointed to a higher reported mortality rate from COVID-19, although others have challenged this assertion, pointing to a lack of information about overall infection rates, caused by a lack of testing kits or even faulty tests.
Better Safe Than Sorry?
Most countries have taken a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to dealing with the virus, introducing a series of increasingly tough measures –starting with the cancellation of public events and the closure of public places, schools, malls, and public transportation, and, in some cases, introducing regional or countrywide lockdowns restricting freedom of movement altogether. However, some countries have opted to limit restrictions, with Sweden challenging European-wide lockdown recommendations, while Belarus too has limited its response to pinpoint quarantine measures for confirmed infections. Britain’s government initially supported a herd immunity approach, but has since backed down in favour of social distancing and self-isolation rules seen in many other countries (although unlike some, UK authorities continue to allow people to leave the house for exercise).
The hard quarantine approach has been praised by many medical professionals, but has also led to concerns in some quarters about the future of the world economy. President Trump has taken a lot of flak for his desire to get the US economy ‘back up and running in time for Easter’, and has since backed down on such promises. However, on Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that apart from its epidemiological impact, the virus is having and will have a substantial economic impact, including “a recession that probably has no parallel in the recent past.” According to Guterres, the economic crisis caused by the global economic shutdown may lead to instability, unrest and conflict unlike any the world has seen since the Second World War.