As countries around the world continue to work tirelessly to contain the spread of COVID-19, health officials have already warned that a second wave of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease could be imminent.
Last week, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told Canadians the virus could last several months and warned of a potential second wave.
“We will need to be prepared for another wave, potentially,” she said.
Could Canada see a second wave of this novel coronavirus? Would it be worse?
Here’s what experts say:
Dr. Suzanne Sicchia, an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, said a second wave occurs when new cases emerge after a “sustained period of time with no or very few infections.”
In an email to Global News, Sicchia said that when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak, a subsequent wave is possible.
“Past pandemics of infectious disease are characterized by waves that span months,” she wrote. “For instance, we saw this with the 1918 influenza pandemic, which had three waves.”
However, Sicchia noted that this novel coronavirus is “a unique virus with unique characteristics — it is not the same as SARS, MERS or influenza.”
She said watching what happens in China and South Korea will yield “important insights” into what could happen with this outbreak.
When could the second wave happen?
Dr. Jeff Kwong, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto, said there are a number of factors that will determine if or when Canada sees a second wave.
He said that if this virus behaves like the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, things might calm down over the summer, and a second wave could come around fall or winter.
“They’re going to call that the second wave,” he said. “But we have no idea what’s actually going to happen.“
He said if Canada is going to see a second wave, it will likely happen once the social-distancing measures currently in place are relaxed.
Kwong warned, though, that “unless we are able to get it under control,” Canada could see a continuation of the virus through the summer months.
Would a second wave be worse?
When it comes to the severity of the second wave, Kwong said it depends on how well Canadians abide by the measures in place and if the country is able to flatten the curve.
Kwong said that with H1N1, countries that experienced a large first wave typically saw a smaller second one.
Conversely, countries that had smaller first waves “generally” experienced larger second waves, he explained.
“I think that may be the pattern we see depending on what happens here,” he said. “It’s kind of like you have a choice: either you have pain now or you like your pain later.
“You’re going to have pain, it’s just a question of when you get your pain.”
But, Kwong said, Canada is “nowhere close” to the peak of the virus because “not a lot of people have been infected.”
“I would say that we haven’t seen anything yet here,” he said. “I think this theoretical second wave, or whenever we relax these restrictions, it’s going to dwarf what we’re seeing now.”
Physical distancing ‘the most effective strategy’
Craig Janes, director of the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, said that right now, physical distancing is the “most effective strategy” Canada has for limiting the spread of the virus.
“The physical distancing is really the key thing. It’s collective action that needs to be done, which can be done. Everybody needs to buy into it,” he said. “That’s the best we have.”
Janes said the more we can flatten the curve, the better Canada’s health system will be able to respond to those infected with the virus now and anyone who becomes sick later.
“This is probably one of the most important things that we’re going to be asked to do in our lifetimes,” he said. “We really need to do this carefully, and if we can do it well, I think we’ll be in a much better position to get back to normal life.“
Kwong said that what we might see in Canada is a gradual relaxation of restrictions, so if people continue to become ill, it doesn’t happen all at once.
On Wednesday, China began lifting the last of the stringent measures that confined tens of millions of people to their homes for approximately two months.
Kwong said it will be interesting to see what happens with the virus once the controls have been lifted.
“I think that’ll be a good indicator of what will happen here when we relax our social-distancing measures,” he said.
Janes said Canada should also continue to do whatever possible to produce additional medical supplies.
Over the last few weeks, companies across the country have retooled in order to help manufacture protective masks, ventilators and sanitation products desperately needed by health-care professionals.
“In addition to social distancing, this will put us in a much better position,” Janes said. “If we flatten this curve and get it under control, to some extent, we’ll buy some time so that we can make sure that our health system is equipped.”