As Malaysia — along with several other countries — begin to ease lockdown measures to reopen the economy, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the coronavirus may never go away
"It is important to put this on the table: this virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away," Dr Michael Ryan said during a virtual briefing from Geneva.
Dr Ryan is an epidemiologist specialising in infectious disease and public health. He is the WHO's emergencies director, responsible for the international containment and treatment of COVID-19.
"I think there are no promises in this and there are no dates," the WHO official added.
The people will just have to learn to live with the coronavirus
According to the WHO emergencies director, people with HIV is one way of looking at it.
"HIV has not gone away — but we have come to terms with the virus," he said, adding that the world has found the therapies and the prevention methods for HIV.
"People don't feel as scared as they did before. And we are offering life to people with HIV, long, healthy lives to people with HIV," he reasoned while saying that he is not comparing the two diseases.
"But I think it is important we are realistic and I don't think anyone can predict when this disease will disappear," he said while referring to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
As of this writing, the coronavirus has killed close to 300,000 people around the world.
What happens when a vaccine is found?
Even then it may not possible to eliminate the coronavirus.
Dr Ryan said that the prospect of a vaccine being found is a "massive moonshot".
While noting that vaccines exist for other illnesses, such as measles, that have not been eliminated, he said that finding a vaccine and making it widely accessible may give us a fighting chance.
"If we do find a highly effective vaccine, that we can distribute to everyone who needs in the world, we may have a shot at eliminating this virus. But that vaccine will have to be highly effective, it will have to be made available, and we will have to use it," the epidemiologist said.
According to Reuters, there are over 100 potential vaccines being developed. However, experts have underscored the difficulties of finding vaccines that are effective against coronaviruses.
Additionally, he also warned the countries that are easing their lockdown measures, insisting that they will have to stay the course
"There is some magical thinking going on that lockdowns work perfectly and that unlocking lockdowns will go great. Both are fraught with dangers," the Irish epidemiologist said.
"We should not be waiting to see if opening of lockdowns has worked by counting bodies in morgues."