Coronavirus: Harvard experts - need for social distancing measures by 2022

Coronavirus: Harvard experts - need for social distancing measures by 2022

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SARS-CoV-2 epidemic: measures to prevent spread by 2022 necessary

In Germany, the ban on contact as a measure to contain the new coronavirus is expected to be maintained at least until May 3 - even if the call for easing is becoming louder in many places. But how can normality be restored and what could it look like? Researchers at Harvard University published a specialist article in the science magazine "Science" that deals with various scenarios. The “social distancing” measures could therefore continue for several years.

Rules of social distancing until 2022?

Can there be normalcy after shutdown? What happens if all restrictions are lifted immediately? A research team from Harvard University around the epidemiologist Edward Goldstein investigated these questions. In the report "Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period", the experts come to the conclusion that all people worldwide should continue to comply with the rules of social distance until 2022 in order to prevent a new pandemic of the Covid 19 pathogen to prevent. This is the only way to avoid overwhelming the health systems. Unless you can find an effective drug or vaccine at this time.

Second outbreak expected in winter

"We have determined that recurring outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2 in winter are likely to occur after the first, most severe pandemic wave," the researchers write. "Additional measures, including increased intensive care capacity and an effective drug, could improve the success of intermittent distancing and accelerate herd immunity," she said.

Without measures, epidemic quickly peaked

If the measures such as curfews or contact closures were suddenly lifted, the pandemic would very likely worsen significantly, the researchers warn. The crucial question was also how the spread of the new corona virus will change with the changing seasons. In addition, it remains unclear what immunity already infected people develop. Another key question is whether an infection with the cold viruses of the milder corona species provides immune protection against the Covid-19 pathogen.

Different scenarios are calculated

In order to gain new insights, the US researchers used computer-controlled simulations that calculated how the pandemic could develop under different conditions. "Regardless of the post-pandemic transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2, measures are urgently required to combat the ongoing epidemic," warn the researchers. Therefore, simulations are necessary to calculate different scenarios.

In addition to strict curfews and contact barriers, consistent tracing of infected groups and quarantine measures could take effect. Experience was gained in 2003 with the Sars-CoV-1 spread. However, this is a hardly manageable scenario, since more than two million people worldwide are officially infected with the virus, the researchers explain. Probably, like influenza, the virus would become a constant companion and spread seasonally worldwide.

In another model calculation, an epidemic culminated after the current measures were continued for 20 weeks. The number of infections rose to the same level as with an uncontrolled spread. "The social distance was so effective that practically no population immunity was built up," write the experts about this model calculation. Social distancing would then have had no effect.

So that such a scenario does not occur, the social distance measures should theoretically be maintained until 2022, the researchers conclude. The measures could only be ended earlier if the capacities in the clinics were increased significantly or if a vaccine or medication were available for treatment. However, they limit: "The development and testing of pharmaceutical therapies and vaccines can take months to years, so that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) are the only immediate means of containing SARS-CoV-2 transmission."

Serological tests required

In the meantime, serological tests are needed to understand the extent and duration of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in order to determine the post-pandemic dynamics of the virus. Sustainable and comprehensive surveillance will be necessary both in the short term in order to temporarily implement measures for social distancing and in the long term in order to assess the possibility of a recurrence of SARS-CoV-2 infection, the report says.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Stephen M. Kissler, Christine Tedijanto, Edward Goldstein, Yonatan H. Grad, Marc Lipsitch: Projecting the transmission dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 through the postpandemic period (published April 14th, 2020), Science

Video: Harvard study says social distancing may be necessary at times into 2022 (August 2022).