How long coronavirus will last: What experts and world leaders say

It's the question everyone wants answered: when will the coronavirus pandemic be over?

Of course, there are so many uncertainties that make figuring that out a burdensome task. Will people self-isolate? Will there be community transmission? Will we find an effective treatment?

But even with uncharted waters ahead of us, that hasn't stopped health experts and world leaders speculating on when things will return to normal.

Exhibit A: Boris Johnson. The UK Prime Minister gave a spirited message to Britons on Thursday (local time), promising to "send coronavirus packing" within 12 weeks.

That seems optimistic, with the UK's population density making social distancing a nightmare and health experts estimating as many as 50,000 people are already infected - far more than the 2626 cases confirmed there so far.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says COVID-19 will be sent packing within 12 weeks.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says COVID-19 will be sent packing within 12 weeks. Photo credit: Reuters

NZ might still be five months from COVID-19 peak

Closer to home, New Zealand's Director-General of Health says initial models show coronavirus cases here would peak in August 2020.

But Dr Ashley Bloomfield said that would be accurate only if the disease arrives in a "single wave" - something they're actively trying to avoid.

New models show that 'flattening the curve' to create a number of smaller peaks would be best to ease the pressure of COVID-19 on New Zealand's hospitals.

"Our approach is - and this is what successful countries have done - is you want to have a series of small peaks over a long period of time," Dr Bloomfield said in a press conference on Wednesday.

"You amplify up with quite stringent controls to make sure you don't exceed your health system capacity, and then as it goes down you can ease those and be prepared to ramp them up again."

China's COVID-19 containment success 'hard to replicate'

Many might look to China - and particularly to the success story of ground zero, Wuhan City - for reassurance that things will quickly return to normal.

Wuhan was placed in total lockdown on January 23, with the Chinese government introducing mandatory quarantine, building new hospitals and cancelling public events.

China had no new domestic transmissions on Friday - the first time since the outbreak.
China had no new domestic transmissions on Friday - the first time since the outbreak. Photo credit: Getty

It was a decision much of the rest of the world saw as extreme and unnecessarily brutal on citizens at the time, but has now been vindicated.

China has now reported its first day with no new domestic transmissions of coronavirus - evidence that its fight with the pandemic is edging closer to a victory.

But any hope we can take from what happened there is minimal, says Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development.

"The measures that China imposed are so extraordinarily draconian and executed with such a high level of discipline that it will be hard for other places to replicate that," he told Market Watch.

Experts say the authoritarian nature of China's leadership has helped it curb the spread of COVID-19 - and indeed its success compared to democracies in Europe, the UK and the US is self-evident.

As for how long coronavirus will last elsewhere? Konyndyk says people should "get ready to hunker down".

"Life is going to be different for the next few months. How different and how long is hard to say... but prepare yourself for a long ride," he said.

How to ensure COVID-19 ends as soon as possible

As impressive as China's recovery has been, model simulation from researchers at the University of Southampton show two-thirds of cases could have prevented had it implemented its stringent measures just a week earlier.

The model shows that China's measures were highly effective when they were introduced, though, and prevented a 67-fold increase in cases.

The lesson for both governments and individuals is clear: act fast.

"If you are to prioritise, early detection and isolation are the most important [approaches to reducing COVID-19 cases]," researcher Andrew Tatem told Nature.

Testing in New Zealand has dramatically ramped up over the past few days, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has introduced tight border controls and self-isolation measures over the last week.

The Prime Minister on Thursday increased border restrictions.
The Prime Minister on Thursday increased border restrictions. Photo credit: Getty

As for whether those actions have come quickly enough, we'll find out soon.

For now, the advice from health officials in New Zealand remains the same: wash your hands, keep your distance from other people, and stay at home if you're sick.