A Chinese expert on infectious diseases said Europe must give up on the idea that the Covid-19 pandemic will be over soon and instead prepare for a battle that could last for up to two years.
The warning – from Zhang Wenhong, head of Shanghai’s Covid-19 clinical expert team – came as European countries, including Italy, Spain and Germany, are experiencing sharp rises in the number of infections and deaths, while China is working to keep out imported cases after reporting only one new domestic case in the past four days.
“It would be perfectly normal if the virus comes and goes, and lasts for one or two years,” Zhang said during a videoconference organised by the Chinese consulate in the German city of Düsseldorf.
“I can tell you now, forget the idea that the pandemic will come to an end in Europe in the near future,” he told the audience of mostly Chinese expatriates and students.
Zhang, who is also director of the infectious diseases department at Huashan Hospital of Fudan University in Shanghai, earlier predicted that the epidemic within China would peak between April and June, before falling back in summer, returning sporadically through autumn and winter, and peaking again, though probably on a smaller scale, next spring.
However, as the outbreak was now a pandemic, it was inevitable that it would be prolonged, and exactly when it might be brought under control – be it this summer or next – would depend on the global effort to contain it, he said.
“To resolve this outbreak in a short period of time, measures have to be extremely radical,” Zhang said, adding that China was able to impose widespread city lockdowns thanks to the fact that the initial outbreak coincided with the Lunar New Year holiday, when schools and businesses were set to close anyway.
“If only the whole world could stop moving for four weeks, the pandemic could be stopped,” he said.
“But I cannot imagine a total global suspension ever possibly happening. Not even in Germany or Europe.”
In some of Europe’s worst-hit areas, like northern Italy, stringent measures like lockdowns, curfews and school closures have already been put in place.
But without simultaneous action around the world, those nations that are imposing control measures would remain exposed to the risk of imported infections, as China had discovered, Zhang said.
As the disease spread wider and the death tolls rose, governments were likely to change their strategies and introduce higher level isolation measures, he said.
“I see a good trend that governments are becoming more and more proactive,” he said.
“As long as the strategies of all countries become increasingly vigorous, effective control of the pandemic is just a matter of time.”
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