WASHINGTON - As people around the world wonder when the coronavirus might go away, experts say: Maybe never.
The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that the new virus, which has infected 4.3 million people worldwide, may become endemic, just like the HIV virus, and that people may have to learn to live with it.
It could stay embedded in communities even if a vaccine is found, said WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan during a virtual news conference from Geneva.
"HIV has not gone away, but we have come to terms with the virus," he said.
About 100 organizations worldwide are working on developing a coronavirus vaccine. Even if they find one that works, containing the virus will take a “massive effort,” the WHO official said.
Meanwhile, the California-based Gilead drug company has reached agreements with several companies to make its antiviral drug Veklury, the brand name of remdesivir, available in 127 countries to help treat COVID-19.
After weeks or months under lockdown, people around the world are eager to return to their normal lives, but the pandemic is showing no signs of going away, at least for now. Some countries, like New Zealand and Thailand, reported no new cases Wednesday, and Australia came close. Once hardest hit, Italy and Spain have both slashed the number of new cases.
But Russia has reported more than 10,000 new infections per day for the past 11 days. It has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases after the United States. The country’s prime minister and the president’s spokesman are being treated for COVID-19. There are fears the situation may worsen because the country’s official nonworking period ended Tuesday.
Some countries that seem to have halted the spread, like Germany and South Korea, have seen a resurgence of cases. A spike of new infections in Lebanon prompted the government to reimpose a four-day lockdown Wednesday after it began gradually lifting restrictions earlier this month.
Governments are struggling between the need to restart their economies and the necessity to contain the virus. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has instructed local governments to reinstate shutdowns if they record more than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents. Russian President Vladimir Putin left to local governors to decide whether to extend shutdowns or reinstate the ones that have been lifted.
In the United States, the government’s top virology expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned the public and leaders of the dangers of reopening too soon. Fauci told a Senate committee Tuesday that premature lifting of restrictions could lead to an outbreak that could be impossible to control.
But U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that people want the country reopened, including businesses and schools.
“We have to open our country. Now, we want to do it safely, but we also want to do it as quickly as possible. We can’t keep going on like this,” Trump said.
The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, extended the U.S. capital’s stay-at-home order, which was to expire Friday, until June 8. She said she wanted to see a steady decline of new cases over two weeks before lifting restrictions. Governors of neighboring states Virginia and Maryland are planning to ease their lockdowns in places where the spread of the virus has halted.
Los Angeles County, California, the most populous county in the U.S., with 10 million residents, is expected to announce a three-month extension of its lockdown.
The largest four-year public university system in the U.S., California State University, announced the cancellation of in-person classes in the fall at its 23 campuses, the first large U.S. university to do so. Almost all instruction will be moved online, Chancellor Timothy White said in a statement.
Elsewhere in the world, Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that it would go into complete lockdown for the end of the holy month of Ramadan after a sharp rise in new cases. The Interior Ministry said the measure would be in effect from May 23 through May 27.
Worldwide, there were about 4.3 million confirmed infections and more than 297,000 deaths late Wednesday evening EDT, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics. The United States was leading the world in the number of infections, with close to 1.4 million, and the number of coronavirus-related deaths, over 84,000.