Coronavirus can be eradicated in ten weeks, says US public health expert

A woman jogs in Brooklyn's Fort Greeene park, on April 5, 2020, beneath a sign demonstrating the distance people should keep from each other during the coronavirus outbreak in New York. (AP)

As cities remain on lockdown and airlines are grounded at deserted airports across the world, many are asking how long it would take for the world to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

In the absence of a safe and effective vaccine to fight the spread of the pandemic, scientists and medical experts have endorsed the idea of flattening the curve, which means slowing the spread of the virus over many months and may require intermittent lockdowns which could last well over 18 months.

But a veteran public health scholar in the US lays out a different path to more swiftly and forcefully bring an end to the pandemic.

Read more: Coronavirus: Science and economics collide over how long a lockdown should last

With a forceful, focused campaign, coronavirus can be eradicated in the United States in ten weeks, says Harvey V. Fineberg, former president of the US National Academy of Medicine.

“The aim is not to flatten the curve,” he wrote in an opinion article published in The New England Journal of Medicine. “The goal is to crush the curve. China did this in Wuhan. We can do it across this country in 10 weeks.”

Fineberg adds that “rather than stumble through starts, stops and half-measures, forge a strategy to defeat coronavirus and open the way to economic revival.”

“We can make the anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2020, the day America declares victory over coronavirus,” Fineberg writes.

Pedestrians pass Brooklyn Hospital Center on Saturday, April 4, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP)

Pedestrians pass Brooklyn Hospital Center on Saturday, April 4, 2020, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (AP)

Six steps to ‘win the war’

In the editorial, Fineberg outlines six steps the US should take to accomplish this goal.

First, US President Donald Trump should appoint a commander in charge of the coronavirus response, Fineberg writes. This person is not a ‘coordinator, but rather someone who has the authority “to mobilize every civilian and military asset needed to win the war.”

“If we don't have a unified command structure with that person in charge who can help guide and make the strategic choices, then I think we can't execute successfully,” Fineberg says.

Second, America should carry out millions of diagnostic tests in the coming two weeks. This strategy was successful in South Korea to contain coronavirus. These tests will help “trace the scope of the outbreak” and make informed decisions about managing patients, he adds.

Read more: Governments track coronavirus infections, but what about tracking immunity?

Third, all health care workers should have access to ample supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). “We wouldn't send soldiers into battle without ballistic vests; health workers on the front lines of this war deserve no less,” Fineberg says.

Fourth, he suggests dividing the population into five groups: those infected with coronavirus; those presumed to be infected based on symptoms but initially tested negative; those exposed to someone with the virus; those who are not known to have been exposed to or infected with coronavirus; and those who recovered from the virus.

People in the first two groups can be hospitalized or placed in “infirmaries” while people who have been exposed to coronavirus, but don't yet show symptoms, may be quarantined in hotels for two weeks. Those who have recovered may be able to go back to work. This “would be a game-changer in restarting parts of the economy more quickly and safely,” according to Fineberg.

Read more: Coronavirus threatens modern life, biggest shock in ‘nearly a century’: McKinsey

Researchers in Germany have already started a large study to find out how many people in the country are immune to coronavirus, which could allow officials to issue “immunity passes” to allow people to return to work.

Fifth, intense efforts should be made to “mobilize the public” in the fight against coronavirus. “Everyone has a part to play and virtually everyone is willing,” Fineberg says.

Sixth, researchers should continue fundamental, ‘real-time’ research into coronavirus to examine questions such as who is at higher risk of death from the disease and whether those who haven't yet caught the virus could safely return to work under certain conditions.

“While we strive to overcome the immediate epidemic, we should take steps to be better equipped to deal with the coronavirus over time and with other emerging threats in the 21st century,” the US public health expert writes.

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