Editorial : Prepare for COVID-19 becoming endemic

【明報專訊】THE WORLD is being ravaged by the novel coronavirus. According to official statistics compiled by different nations, the virus has claimed more than 300,000 lives around the globe. Experts from the WHO warn that the novel coronavirus might be here to stay forever, just like HIV.

A new case of local infection has emerged in Hong Kong. Health officials say that it remains to be seen how the outbreak will develop, and the possibility of sporadic cases cannot be ruled out. The public might have to accept that they will coexist with the virus for a long time. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, has also mentioned recently that it might be impossible to exterminate the novel coronavirus, and that it might become endemic and never disappear as is the case for AIDS. Ryan says that some countries that have seen outbreaks of the disease are beginning to relax the restrictions, which he says must be handled very carefully lest a new outbreak should happen.

HIV originated from chimpanzees in Western Africa. Tracing its origins, scientists believe that it was transmitted to humans in the early 20th century, most probably through hunting. It entered the US in the 1970s and spread gradually. Through in-depth research, scientists discovered this "virus of the century" in the 1980s. Thanks to decades of hard work, it can be said that scientists have found relatively effective ways of inhibiting HIV in the human body. However, there is still not an "antidote" to the virus, nor is there a vaccine that works. The most effective means of prevention remains the avoidance of unsafe sex and the sharing of syringes.

By comparing the novel coronavirus with HIV, WHO officials mean to remind the public to be prepared for coexistence with the disease. As humans are able to coexist with HIV, they can also find ways to coexist with the novel coronavirus. Looking at the matter from another angle, however, we have to understand that science cannot do everything and the fight against the novel coronavirus might not be smooth. The novel coronavirus might not be as deadly as AIDS in the 1980s when it first broke out, but it is obviously much less preventable than HIV given its ways of transmission. Before there is an effective treatment or a vaccine, the most effective ways of prevention remain a change in behaviour, social distancing and maintenance of personal hygiene.

No doubt a change of behaviour and modes of social operation can come at a huge cost. To control the disease, many countries have imposed stringent social restriction measures, dealing a heavy blow to the economy. As soon as the outbreak eases, albeit mildly, some countries cannot wait to lift anti-pandemic measures. In the US, cases rise by tens of thousands every day, but the White House and many states are wasting no time in restarting the economy. In Europe, many countries are also preparing to liberate the tourism industry and relax border restrictions.

To cope with the impact of the pandemic, the government has allocated nearly $300 billion to prop up the economy and save jobs. If the pandemic continues protractedly, the economy downturn persists, government income decreases sharply while expenditure on fighting the pandemic and saving the economy increases incessantly, the Hong Kong government, which unlike the US cannot solve such problems by printing money, must plan ahead as soon as possible and contemplate how to deal with different scenarios.

明報社評2020.05.15:新冠肺炎恐變風土病 抗疫見步行步非良策









endemic : If a disease or illness is endemic in a place, it is frequently found among the people who live there.

originate : to happen or appear for the first time in a particular place or situation

albeit : although

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