A study by Harvard's Chan School of Public Health has found that social distancing might have to last until 2022 unless treatments or vaccines become available or if care capacity is increased.
This news will be disappointing to many who may have already been in self-isolation for months now, but the Harvard research team have based their findings on "seasonality, immunity, and cross-immunity."
For instance, the most severe wave of the pandemic could subside but as the seasons change another outbreak of Covid-19 could occur, forcing us to all intermittently go back into isolation.
In the paper, published by Science they determine that even if the disease is eliminated it should remain under surveillance until 2024 to prevent another outbreak.
Prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022. Additional interventions, including expanded critical care capacity and an effective therapeutic, would improve the success of intermittent distancing and hasten the acquisition of herd immunity.
Longitudinal serological studies are urgently needed to determine the extent and duration of immunity to Sars-CoV-2. Even in the event of apparent elimination, Sars-CoV-2 surveillance should be maintained since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024
The report states that under all the scenarios that they simulated, infections resurged after social distancing measures were lifted, no matter how strict or lenient they initially were. One scenario also saw coronavirus return in 2025.
However, the researchers believed that new medication and vaccinations could prevent any of this occurring but until then studying the spread of the virus and intermittent social distancing would be necessary for the next two years. This would, therefore, allow hospitals to better deal with the outbreak and may allow for population immunity to happen.
Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, praised the study but reiterated that this was not a prediction but just a possible scenario.
He is quoted by ITV News as saying:
This is an excellent study that uses mathematical models to explore the dynamics of Covid-19 over a period of several years, in contrast to previously published studies that have focused on the coming weeks or months.
It is important to recognise that it is a model. It is consistent with current data but is nonetheless based on a series of assumptions – for example about acquired immunity - that are yet to be confirmed.
The study should therefore be regarded as suggesting possible scenarios rather than making firm predictions
So while we hope this might all be over soon, it might not be that simple.