Skip to content

Coronavirus pandemic: When will it end? Lessons from Ebola virus in Liberia

Many are wondering when coronavirus (COVID-19) will be defeated and the world declared coronavirus free.

Being a new virus without vaccine, COVID-19 which has been characterized as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is bringing countries to standstill.

To have an idea of how long it may take to declare a country coronavirus free, let’s look at the case of Ebola.

In June 2016 the WHO declared the end of the most recent outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia and confirmed that all known chains of transmission had been stopped in West Africa.

That was the fourth time that Liberia was declared Ebola free.

The process of declaring a country Ebola free is quite complex. According to the WHO, a country can only be declared Ebola free after 42 days have passed since the last confirmed case has tested negative twice for the virus on blood samples.

After the 42-day period has elapsed, the country must maintain a system of heightened surveillance for a further 90 days and ensure ongoing Ebola surveillance and notification thereafter.

In the case of Ebola, the 42-day period is regarded as twice the maximum incubation period for infections. A period of 42 days since the last case tested negative twice can be expected to confirm the interruption of human-to-human transmission.

Liberia was first declared free of Ebola transmission in May 2015, but the virus was re-introduced twice since then, with the latest flare-up in November 2015.

The latest announcement declaring the country Ebola free came 42 days (two 21-day incubation cycles of the virus) after the last confirmed patient in Liberia tested negative for the disease 2 times.

In the case of COVID-19, the incubation cycle of the virus is two weeks and the maximum incubation period for infections is one month.

A country can therefore only be declared COVID-19 free a month since the last case tested negative twice.

If the patient doesn’t heal and dies, the one month count begins on the day following burial. This means that in a country like Germany, if the last confirmed patient will test negative for the disease 2 times in April, the country will only be declared COVID-19 free in May.

And there is a risk of losing this Covid-19 free status if people are allowed to immediately resume the usual activities and social contacts. It is also quite easy for new cases to be imported through passengers arriving from other countries.

The fight against COVID-19 will go on for longer than expected and each country will have to maintain a system of heightened surveillance for months even after being declared COVID-19 free.

Infection prevention and control measures will have to be maintained and monitored in all countries. This thing is here to stay for a while, probably for several months to come. The only way to defeat it is to protect yourself and others against COVID-19. So far there is no vaccine, drug or treatment for COVID-19.