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Coronavirus: When Will the Second Wave Hit?
By Zulfikar Abbany
First it looked like we were in for a very long haul under lockdown measures, perhaps until the end of the summer holidays. That was until about two weeks ago. Then, all of a sudden, the weather changed — atmospherically and metaphorically, and perhaps freakishly so.
Restrictions are being lifted in Germany, Spain, Greece and elsewhere.
Even the United Kingdom, which has seen some of the highest numbers of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in Europe, is thinking about "reopening the economy," as several top officials have urged in recent days.
Earlier this month, India extended its lockdown for another two weeks amid growing concerns that if nations ease restrictions too soon, the world may well see a second wave of infections.
A second wave is more or less inevitable. "This virus may just become another endemic virus in our communities," said Dr. Mike Ryan of the World Health Organization at a press conference streamed live on May 13. "This virus may never go away."
Ryan, the executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, pointed out that other viruses like HIV haven't gone away either. Instead, we've developed drugs to mitigate its affects and we've learned to live with it. Only the fewest of deadly viruses, such as smallpox, have ever been eradicated.
The rest live on in the community. Some, like tuberculosis, make a comeback, and history shows that a second wave of a pandemic can be worse than the first. This was the case with the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which continued in waves until letting up in 1920.
So, should we be a little more patient? Should we stay in lockdown?
Germany: A controlled experiment?
When the coronavirus reproduction rate R fell from a threshold of 1 down to 0.76 at the end of April, the German government and health authorities agreed to partially reopen schools for those sitting major exams or moving from primary to secondary schools in the autumn.
The schools set about redesigning classrooms and segmenting concrete playgrounds into safe zones, to ensure they met physical distancing and hygiene guidelines.
But before schools and their pupils had a chance to return to class and test those ad hoc safety designs, the government decided to lift restrictions further. Now, even younger children were to return to school, for a day at a time.
Zoos and museums are also reopening with new physical distancing rules, ensuring that people remain apart from each other. But there's no sign of any such rules at playgrounds, which reopened on May 7, and where a physical distancing rule of 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) between kids has quickly dwindled to 1.5 centimeters. Was this a controlled experiment for good behavior? Germany is, after all, a democracy "built on trust," said Chancellor Angela Merkel last week as she announced the relaxed regulations.
The WHO, however, would prefer that the transition from lockdown be "evidence based [and] data driven," one that is "implemented incrementally" to "reduce the risk of new outbreaks."
"Ideally there would be a minimum of 2 weeks (corresponding to the incubation period of COVID-19) between each phase of the transition, to allow sufficient time to understand the risk of new outbreaks and to respond appropriately," the WHO said in its COVID-19 strategy update from April 19.
That has not exactly happened in Germany, with the second phase of the transition for schools starting a mere four days after higher grades went back to class.
The federal government has left it to the states and municipalities to track developments, saying that tighter restrictions should be reintroduced if a region detects 50 new cases of coronavirus per 100,000 people in any given week.
No international standard
But it would appear that there is no agreed standard for what constitutes a second wave of an epidemic or pandemic — either at a global or national, regional level. So, the 50 cases per 100,000 people may be nothing more than a nice round figure.
In an email to DW, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said the "second wave" is not a fixed technical term. "The term [only] refers to renewed outbreaks after an initial reduction in cases. Hence, the same applies for a 'third' wave."
Some researchers in Germany, including Eva Grill at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and Rafael Mikolajczyk at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, are reportedly worried that 50 cases per 100,000 people is too high — too high for the health system to cope, or simply too late to stop the spread.
If or when it happens, people will panic and cities will head back into lockdown. Plans for classroom education will tank along with the economy, and everyone will go nuts indoors. Again. We'll be desperate to reemerge, and when the number of new cases drops again, restrictions will be eased once more.
It's a classic cycle. But one with which we may have to learn to live.
"If disease persists in countries at a low level without the capacity to investigate and identify clusters," said the WHO's Mike Ryan at an earlier press conference on May 11, "then there is always the risk that the disease will take off again, particularly where we have large groups of people together in major cities, in refugee camps and other places where people don't have the possibility of large-scale social or physical distancing."
Viruses always mutate and come back
The influenza pandemic of 1918 had three major waves. Starting in March 1918, its peak came during a second wave late that same year.
That second wave was a stronger mutation than the first version of the virus.
In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the second wave was responsible for the majority of the deaths in the U.S. — the flu's likely country of origin.
A third wave came in early 1919 and lasted until mid-year when, according to the CDC, the Spanish flu "subsided." But it probably never fully went away.
Some virologists suggest that a virus weakens with subsequent mutations. It becomes less fatal for humans, not only because people develop an immunity or resilience to the virus, but also because the virus needs living hosts to reproduce and survive itself. And so, it lives on in the community.
We're already seeing what may become, officially, a second wave of the novel coronavirus. There are new cases in China, Russia and even South Korea, which has been praised for its containment of the first wave.
As the Northern Hemisphere heads into summer and with Greece and Spain banking on a tourist season despite the virus, we may see that second wave sooner than later, as predicted by a study published in British medical journal The Lancet in April.
"The question is, can we reach a point where we have strong public health measures in place, where we can [detect] clusters of cases and suppress those clusters without going back to the intense transmission patterns of before," said Ryan.
A major wave of new infections would bring a second wave of lockdowns.
"That's what we're trying to avoid," said Ryan. "So, we hope, and we have faith that Germany, Korea and other countries will be able to suppress the clusters they're having and, in some cases, maybe at a subnational level, they may have to impose some specific measures targeted at reducing particular types of transmission."
Or we'll all be rebooking our holidays yet again.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Gavin Naylor
Sharks elicit outsized fear, even though the risk of a shark bite is infinitesimally small. As a marine biologist and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, I oversee the International Shark Attack File – a global record of reported shark bites that has been maintained continuously since 1958.
A Big, Diverse Family<p>Not all sharks are the same. Only a dozen or so of the roughly 520 shark species pose any risk to people. Even the three species that account for almost all shark bite fatalities – the <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharodon-carcharias/" target="_blank">white shark</a> (<em>Carcharodon carcharias</em>), <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/galeocerdo-cuvier/" target="_blank">tiger shark</a> (<em>Galeocerdo cuvier</em>) and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-leucas/" target="_blank">bull shark</a> (<em>Carcharhinus leucas</em>) – are behaviorally and evolutionarily very different from one another.</p><p>The tiger shark and bull shark are genetically as different from each other as a dog is from a rabbit. And both of these species are about as different from a white shark as a dog is from a kangaroo. The evolutionary lineages leading to the two groups split 170 million years ago, during the age of dinosaurs and before the origin of birds, and <a href="https://www.ck12.org/book/CK-12-Human-Biology/section/7.2/" target="_blank">110 million years before the origin of primates</a>.</p>
White, tiger and bull sharks are distinct species that diverged genetically tens of millions of years ago. Gavin Naylor / CC BY-ND<p>Yet many people assume all sharks are alike and equally likely to bite humans. Consider the term "shark attack," which is scientifically equivalent to "mammal attack." Nobody would equate dog bites with hamster bites, but this is exactly what we do when it comes to sharks.</p><p>So, when a reporter calls me about a fatality caused by a white shark off Cape Cod and asks my advice for beachgoers in North Carolina, it's essentially like asking, "A man was killed by a dog on Cape Cod. What precautions should people take when dealing with kangaroos in North Carolina?"</p>
Know Your Species<p>Understanding local species' behavior and life habits is one of the best ways to stay safe. For example, almost all shark bites that occur off Cape Cod are by white sharks, which are a large, primarily cold-water species that spend most of their time in isolation feeding on fishes. But they also aggregate near seal colonies that provide a reliable food source at certain times of the year.</p><p>Shark bites in the Carolinas are by warm-water species like bull sharks, tiger sharks and <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/carcharhinus-limbatus/" target="_blank">blacktips</a> (<em>Carcharhinus limbatus</em>). Each species is associated with particular habitats and dietary preferences.</p><p>Blacktips, which we suspect are responsible for most relatively minor bites on humans in the southeastern United States, feed on schooling bait fishes like menhaden. In contrast, bull sharks are equally at home in fresh water and salt water, and are often found near estuaries. Their bites are more severe than those of blacktips, as they are larger, more powerful, bolder and more tenacious. Several fatalities have been ascribed to bull sharks.</p><p>Tiger sharks are also large, and are responsible for a significant fraction of fatalities, particularly off the coast of volcanic islands like Hawaii and Reunion. They are tropical animals that often venture into shallow water frequented by swimmers and surfers.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1cfa1c9590e386ecc9455b4762b87518"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/yDqzGOa-adc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Humans Are Not Targets<p>Sharks do not "hunt" humans. Data from the International Shark Attack File compiled over the past 60 years show a tight association between shark bites and the number of people in the water. In other words, shark bites are a simple function of the probability of encountering a shark.</p><p>This underscores the fact that shark bites are almost always cases of mistaken identity. If sharks actively hunted people, there would be many more bites, since humans make very easy targets when they swim in sharks' natural habitats.</p><p>Local conditions can also affect the risk of an attack. Encounters are more likely when sharks venture closer to shore, into areas where people are swimming. They may do this because they are following bait fishes or seals upon which they prey.</p><p>This means we can use environmental variables such as temperature, tide or weather conditions to better predict movement of bait fish toward the shoreline, which in turn will predict the presence of sharks. Over the next few years, the Florida Program for Shark Research will work with colleagues at other universities to monitor onshore and offshore movements of tagged sharks and their association with environmental variables so that we can improve our understanding of what conditions bring sharks close to shore.</p>
More to Know<p>There still is much to learn about sharks, especially the 500 or so species that have never been implicated in a bite on humans. One example is the tiny <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/one-worlds-rarest-sharks-also-one-most-adorable-325280" target="_blank">deep sea pocket shark</a>, which has a strange pouch behind its pectoral fins.</p><p>Only two specimens of this type of shark have ever been caught – one off the coast of Chile 30 years ago, and another more recently in the Gulf of Mexico. We're not sure about the function of the pouch, but suspect it stores luminous fluid that is released to distract would-be predators – much as its close relative, the <a href="https://sharkdevocean.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/second-ever-pocket-shark-discovered-in-gulf-of-mexico/" target="_blank">tail light shark</a>, releases luminous fluid from a gland on its underside near its vent.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5783b39d0838d6e410344a852ed0dcc3"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UTO5debfmsg?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Sharks range in form from the bizarre <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/mitsukurina-owstoni/" target="_blank">goblin shark</a> (<em>Mitsukurina owstoni</em>), most commonly encountered in Japan, to the gentle filter-feeding <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/rhincodon-typus/" target="_blank">whale shark</a> (<em>Rhincodon typus</em>). Although whale sharks are the largest fishes in the world, we have yet to locate their nursery grounds, which are likely teeming with thousands of <a href="https://www.earthtouchnews.com/oceans/sharks/baby-whale-shark-rescued-from-gillnet-in-india-video/" target="_blank">foot-long pups</a>. Some deepwater sharks are primarily known from submersibles, such as the giant <a href="https://twitter.com/gavinnaylor/status/1146144452681113601" target="_blank">sixgill shark</a>, which feeds mainly on carrion but probably also preys on other animals in the deep sea.</p><p>Sharks seem familiar to almost all of us, but we know precious little about them. Our current understanding of their biology barely scratches the surface. The little we do know suggests they are profoundly different from other vertebrate animals. They've had 400 million years of independent evolution to adapt to their environments, and it's reasonable to expect they may be hiding more than a few tricks up their gills.</p>
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