You can call it a ‘second wave’ or ‘people being idiots’ but it’s the same thing

Paediatric cardiologist Victor Grech says secondary infection could come the minute government relaxes the soft lockdown Malta is in

Pediatric cardiologist Victor Grech
Pediatric cardiologist Victor Grech

Medical journal The Lancet reports that 232,000 people in mainland China may have contracted coronavirus during its first wave, according to a study by Hong Kong University’s school of public health, part of the 2,588,310 cases reported worldwide so far. 

But many are expecting a second wave of cases of COVID-19, now that several countries are planning to loosen restrictions imposed during the initial outbreak. 

MaltaToday spoke to Prof. Victor Grech, who helps run the paediatric cardiology services at Mater Dei Hospital and who is also a researcher with an interest in epidemiology, asking him about this second wave and its implications. 

“The new spate of cases will come as people inevitably become complacent and/or the government relaxes some of this soft lockdown that we are in. When that happens cases will flare up and could get out of hand,” Grech said, predicting an increase in cases approximately two weeks after restrictions are relaxed. 

The severity of the second wave is a matter of concern to medical professionals. “If we get a lot of cases at the same time, we will drown in cases... there’s a limit to what you can prepare for,” he says, pointing to lessons learned in Lombardy. “There’s no way you can prepare for hundreds of new cases daily.”  

We must face the fact there are no easy ways out of lockdown

China was experiencing a resurgence in COVID-19 infections after re-opening its borders, Grech pointed out. “The same happened in Singapore – you relax the border controls and it happens again. From what I’m reading in reports, countries who have relaxed controls [too early] have ended up getting it worse.” 

The problem with COVID-19 is that some of those infected are asymptomatic but still infectious, becoming unwitting carriers of the disease. 

“People circulate without knowing they carry it. All this means that because things are working well, people will relax and we get a spike in the number of cases. You can call it a ‘second wave’ or ‘people being idiots’ but it’s the same thing.” 

Asked whether he thought Malta was equipped to deal with the pandemic, Grech said the numbers proved that it was dealing with it admirably. 

“Yes, we’ve been lucky because we had a while to prepare, but hats off to Chris Fearne for listening to public health doctors’ advice. The situation was potentially catastrophic with thousands of deaths. This form of semi-hard lockdown has worked. Look at the numbers – they show it.” 

This was down to the public heeding the professionals’ advice. “There hasn’t been a lot of spread caused by people being stupid, and it’s not being missed as people aren’t coming in to hospital.” 

The million dollar question of whether COVID-19 can be stopped remains. “The only way to stop it is through a vaccine,” Grech says, taking a moment to point out to so-called “anti-vaxxers” that the world has effectively ground to a shuddering halt for the want of just one vaccine. 

A lot of work goes into researching and developing these preventive measures, he explained. “Typically it takes 10 years to get a vaccine, if they really push it, like with Ebola, they got it in 5. If the vaccine goes through all the trial phases by next year, we’ll be really happy,” he says. 

Grech also maintains a blog with updates on the COVID-19 crisis. His latest post is ominous: “We cling to the idea of light at the end of the tunnel but we must face the fact there are no easy ways out of lockdown. You recall what Winston Churchill said after El Alamein? ‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ Well, where we are now is not the end of the beginning. It’s just the beginning.”