“A good preventative measure requires changing your behaviors, practicing good hygiene, and being mindful of one’s health and others’.”

After Thailand lifted its Stage-2 lockdown on 17 May 2020, shops, malls, and many businesses began to resume their activities. However, many countries like Germany, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, or South Korea that have started to relax their lockdowns are facing their second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks. This has prompted many academics and doctors to voice their concerns on the potential risk of another spread. Dr. Thavirap Tantiwongse, CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PReMA) comments on what we have learnt from the first COVID-19 outbreak and how we should prepare for the looming second spread

1. Has the first wave passed?

Although the number of the newly infected cases has been in the single digits for many consecutive days, we cannot be certain that the spread has been completely contained. There are many factors we need to consider, such as the number of tests being administered, how many people without symptoms are being tested, etc. Germany is using the basic reproduction rate (R number) to determine the severity of the spread with the safe range being between 0 and 1.

The R number is considered a reliable assessment because the value is usually obtained through a large number of tests done on a highly effective machine. This is an adequate indicator of whether or not the first wave has subsided.

2. How would the second wave happen?

The first wave of COVID-19 outbreak was like a Tsunami that hit us without any warning. It quickly and violently escalated to a global pandemic, and caused massive economic disruptions and losses of lives.

The second wave will be like an underwater wave that quietly forms while everything seems calm and normal as we are seeing some lax in social distancing measures. The important question is how severe the second wave will be.

“I think we have learnt a lot from the first outbreak, so if there’s a second one, it may be more like a cluster.” Thailand has handled this fairly well in many aspects. People were cooperative and cautious. They started wearing masks before the WHO even asked people to start wearing masks. Our medical personnel are now more experienced and know more about how to handle and treat the disease. Physical distancing also effectively helped slow the spread. The second wave, if it happens, might not be as severe as the first, assuming that everyone is still following the Health Ministry’s advice and practices.

3. What would indicate that we are entering the second wave?

The best indicators are widespread increases in infection numbers or a super spreader. Some of the measurable indicators of the crisis level are:

1. The number of patients in Intensive Care Units from a sudden spike of infections

2. The number of patients who need ventilators

3. The number of cases which need intensive life-saving drugs or treatment

4. How can we prevent the second wave?

The whole world is waiting for the discovery of a COVID-19 vaccine so that we can go back to our normal lives. We think that the vaccine will solve the virus problem entirely. But this is a reactive solution, not a proactive one.

“A good preventative measure requires changing your behaviors, practicing good hygiene, and being mindful of one’s health and others’.”

“When we look back at past outbreaks — MERS, SARS, Ebola, or even COVID-19 — they all started from unhygienic behaviors and the lack of preventative measures. If we only keep looking for vaccines, it will be just a matter of time before we face another outbreak, and potentially from a different kind of virus.

The important lesson we can learn from COVID-19 is how we should focus on getting accustomed to the new normal and practicing good hygiene to minimize risks. Things like frequently washing your hands, wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and being mindful of those at risk like children, elders, and those with congenital diseases will help us prevent ourselves from almost any kind of virus in this world.