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WHO just reminded us of the worst-case coronavirus scenario

Published Aug 3rd, 2020 6:02PM EDT

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  • There isn’t any “silver bullet” for stopping coronavirus transmission, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reminded the world on Monday.
  • Even though several promising vaccine candidates have advanced to Phase 3, Tedros explained that people should still respect safety measures. People should still practice social distancing, wear face masks, and wash hands frequently to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In some ways, the novel coronavirus pandemic is much worse than it was a few months ago, but it’s also a lot better in others. We’ve been witnessing weeks of record-breaking COVID-19 diagnoses in various parts of the world, and the death toll keeps climbing. Things could get a lot worse before they get any better, mostly because some people have either run out of patience for all the new rules, or they never had any in the first place.

There’s also a lot of relatively good news. Lockdowns work, and so does social distancing when economies reopen. Face masks work, and they should be used for as long as it takes. Frequent hand washing is more important than ever, and it’s the kind of healthy habit that will protect you against all sorts of infectious diseases, not just COVID-19. All those things combined prevented hospitals from collapsing. They gave governments time to come up with the resources needed to fight the pandemic, and procure PPE, test kits, and vital medical equipment. They helped doctors test and develop new therapies and advance vaccine research and new drugs at an unexpected speed.

And they will continue to work for as long as needed for the world to get back to normal. But the World Health Organization (WHO), which saw its fair share of criticism for early missteps in managing the health crisis, just gave us a worst-case coronavirus prediction that’s quite sobering. There may never be a “silver bullet.”

The WHO has said that the coronavirus might never go away, and other health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, echoed those remarks. There’s little chance to see this virus eradicated, even once vaccines arrive. And a few days ago, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus doubled down, saying that the COVID-19 effects will be felt “for decades to come.”

The Director-General on Monday continued his warnings during a media briefing from Geneva. He warned that no matter how promising vaccine and drug research might look right now, we shouldn’t forget there’s no guarantee of success.

“A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” he said, per The Hill. “However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be.”

The worst possible outcome would be for every vaccine candidate to fail in the critical Phase 3 of testing. This would set us back a few months, as we’d be waiting for other vaccine candidates to reach their own Phase 3 trials. The same could happen with the promising drugs that are meant to treat existing COVID-19 infections and prevent deaths. After all, vaccines only work on people who have not contracted the illness.

That would be devastating news, but the world needs to be aware of the possibility of having to live with COVID-19 as it is right now, without vaccines or anything else to artificially reduce the infection rate.

Tedros urged countries to continue to test, isolate, and treat COVID-19 patients. Contact-tracing and quarantining practices could help reduce transmission. He advocated for face masks and physical distance in public, and regular handwashing. These measures can flatten the curve without lockdowns, regardless of drugs.

If you’ve not given up respecting the guidelines that health officials have devised, Tedros’ remarks should further motivate you. Wearing a face mask in public, social distancing as much as possible, and washing your hands as often as possible could continue to keep you safe for as long as it takes. if you’re an anti-masker who defies these common-sense rules, you might have to face the illness sooner than you’d think, especially with no silver bullet in sight.

Luckily, all the research so far proves that scientists don’t have just one vaccine idea, they have over 150 of them, six of which have reached Phase 3 trials. They don’t have just one idea for developing new drugs either. Dozens of therapies that worked in early trials have been detailed in new studies, and there’s hope the world will soon have the silver bullets it needs to turn COVID-19 into the flu-like disease that we always hoped it would be.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.