The novel coronavirus will return in surges each year, like the flu, according to senior Chinese scientists studying Covid-19.
Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences say that because many Covid-19 carriers are asymptomatic, it will be almost impossible to eradicate the disease, unlike previous viruses such as SARS where the infection led quickly to illness and quarantine.
The difficulty in containing the coronavirus has prompted researchers in Beijing to warn reporters that the asymptomatic nature of the disease for many carriers will mean it could return on a seasonal basis.
“This is very likely to be an epidemic that co-exists with humans for a long time, becomes seasonal and is sustained within human bodies,” said Jin Qi, director of the Institute of Pathogen Biology at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.
The news may prompt a reappraisal of the lockdown strategy adopted by many countries, as economic survival becomes a more pressing concern in the months ahead.
Whether the findings of the scientists will prove accurate remains to be seen, but they join a growing chorus of experts, among them Anthony Fauci of the US Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who expect the virus to become a long-term feature of medical concern.
The Chinese researchers also dismissed widespread hopes that better weather will provide an inhospitable environment for the virus, telling reporters that there is no evidence to demonstrate this.
“The virus is heat sensitive, but that’s when it’s exposed to 56 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes and the weather is never going to get that hot,” claimed Wang Guiqiang, director of the infectious diseases department of Peking University First Hospital.
“So globally, even during the summer, the chance of cases going down significantly is small.”
Over 3 million people have now been confirmed as carriers of the virus, with at least 210,000 fatalities since the outbreak.
The number of asymptomatic or untested carriers of the disease is thought to be many multiples of the confirmed cases, with a recent New York study estimating that 13.9% of state residents had already developed antibodies.
Although there are reports that antibodies will not protect against all strains of the virus, renewed attention is likely to be paid to working towards widespread immunity.