As Annie once sang on Broadway, “The sun will come up tomorrow.” People are still waiting for the proverbial sun to come up tomorrow – for COVID-19 to finally see its end. “After the end of the pandemic” must be one of 2021’s uttered phrases. And there’s no reason to question this optimism. With the vaccination programs rolling out, people are hoping for the end of the pandemic.
Currently, we are somehow bending the curve. Israel’s vaccination efforts are already taking a nationwide effect. Their severe COVID deaths and cases are rapidly declining. The same can be said for the UK.
But does this mean COVID-19 is ending soon? Should you still look into health insurance coverage including critical illness related to the coronavirus? Can the world look forward to finally hugging each other in person soon?
Maybe not. If there’s anything history has told us, the end of a pandemic is a rare occurrence that is complex and not easy to date.
A Look Back Into Previous Pandemics
The Spanish Flu of 1918 was probably the deadliest in history. Infecting more than 500 million, the flu killed nearly 50 million of the international population. Similar to today, international and national governments enforced social distancing and mask-wearing. The flu eventually subsided, but identifying its precise end is impossible.
Two years later, several newspapers reported the return of the Spanish Flu. About 5,000 cases were reported in Chicago, which resulted in the closing of public spaces, like theaters. Late into 1920, the U.S. government implemented “drastic” measures to stop the spread of the flu in New York City. At the same time, the flu hit Paris and took the lives of 60 people.
Subsequent waves of the virus ripped through North America and Europe for years after the Spanish Flu’s supposed end. As late as 1925, more than 200 people died in Chicago.
COVID-19 is different from the 1918’s Spanish Flu due to the highly effective vaccines that we have. A vaccine is a powerful tool that raises the hopes for the end of the pandemic. Although vaccines have played an important role in controlling infectious diseases, their ability to end a pandemic is limited.
For instance, the vaccine for polio was developed in 1950. But it took nearly three decades for polio to see its end; the last acquired polio infection was in 1984.
Fear Ends First Before the Pandemic?
Historians know that epidemics and pandemics are social phenomena. So they can end in one of two ways. First, there’s the medical conclusion of a pandemic, which involves the incidence of the disease drastically going down, as well as the death rates. Second is the social end, when social restriction ease and the fear of the infection decrease.
One can happen without the other. The rates of COVID-19 may go down, fewer people could end up in the hospital, the social anxiety can ease and life will return to normal. Or the cases could stay the same, but people insist on bringing back their normal routines, regardless. Or the rates could go down but the population would still be fearful – anxious about going back to normal. They are unable to let go of the precautions they’ve gotten used to.
Also, COVID-19 is a global disease. Countries have different medical and social conclusions to their versions of the pandemic.
The Reality of Uneven Geography
HIV/AIDS infected North America and Europe during the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, the infection rates have dramatically dropped and many HIV-positive individuals are living long and healthy lives – in developing countries. As of 2019, however, there are still 40 million people struggling with HIV/AIDS. According to the World Health Organization, there remains a global epidemic.
As first-world countries continue to roll out vaccination programs, the ending of their COVID-19 experience may come soon. But what about the rest of the world? Will developing countries experience the same soon?
No matter where you look, there is unlikely to be an exact set date for the end of COVID-19. The world has only managed to successfully end one disease (smallpox). In terms of other pandemics or epidemics in history, their endings have been uneven, messy or protracted.
Look Forward to the Future But Be Responsible
Everyone needs something to look forward to. For the rest of the world, that’s the permanent conclusion of COVID-19. While we need a dose of optimism, we still need to be responsible. Instead of planning holidays or parties, now would be the best time to think of the future we want to look forward to.
As the rest of the world waits for COVID-19 to end, spend your time being safe and responsible to speed up the end of the pandemic. Stay at home, watch mind-bending Netflix movies, tell loved ones you love them online – do your part to celebrate sooner.