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Watch again: Health experts answer your coronavirus questions

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By Euronews
Euronews is hosting a special coronavirus Q&A
Euronews is hosting a special coronavirus Q&A   -   Copyright  Ramon Espinosa/AP Photos
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Euronews held its latest coronavirus Q&A on Tuesday as we seek to answer your pressing questions about the disease.

We spoke to two experts to get some answers: Alanna Shaikh, a global health expert based in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Dr Fiachra Humphries, an immunologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School

Only 2 to 3 per cent have been infected by COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. Is this good or bad news?

"To me, this is a sign that lockdown has been working and we've been slowing the rate of infections," said Shaikh.

"It means that now is not the time to let up and allow free movement again."

Dr Humphries said: "I think it's a good sign but it also shows that we need much more widespread testing to give us definitive answers about how prevalent it is in the community at the moment.

"So 2-3 per cent shows that the spread is being limited and the lockdown is working but what we really need now is really widespread efficacious, serological testing to be able to test for antibodies and immunity in the blood. Once that's in place then we'll have a much better idea of how prevalent it actually is in the community already."

Do you think there will be a second wave and will it be worse?

"Yes, there will be a second wave, not in the sense of a single gigantic global wave but in the sense that every community, every region, every country that brought people in with travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders as they loosen those orders we will see an increase in infections," said Shaikh.

"We're likely to see a series of small waves. As we control travel, we keep people in place, infections decrease, as people start moving again, infections will increase."

Dr Humphries: "There are a couple of different strains in the community at the moment but there doesn't seem to be any difference so far detected in how virulent the virus is. Whether or not it becomes more virulent, we'll have to wait for the data to come in. But on the plus side, now we're seeing the emergence of different therapeutics and vaccine designs that are in development that would take that into account."

What about tests, when they are available, will they have to be adapted if the virus? mutates?

"It all depends on what antibody is raised against which specific antigen, so what you're testing against," said Dr Humphries.

"We're in a situation where you have a specific antigen from each virus that we're able to detect with one big test.

"When we know fully if there are big changes in these antigens that the virus present to our immune systems then we'll be in a better position to be able to answer that question but I think the best possible strategy is to develop an antibody test against an antigen that's common across any different viral strain for COVID-19."

Restrictions are easing in several countries in Europe. What should reopen first?

"I think you can see what the essential services are at the moment," said Dr Humphries. "We have our healthcare service, we have our food services, our delivery services, so I think expanding a little bit more on that would be a good start, slowly over time in phases.

"And then if we do it slowly and gradually we'll be able to see any spikes in the detection of more cases, and as we go through each phase we'll be able to determine if it's safe to go further."

What should people be worried about as they go back to work? What protective measures should they take?

"The biggest thing that you can do to protect yourself on an individual level is social distancing," said Shaikh.

"You can avoid going to crowded meetings, you can keep that six-foot space between yourself and colleagues, you can wash your hands frequently and sanitise touched surfaces, keep wiping down doorknobs, phone handsets, anything that a lot of people are touching.

"The key thing to remember is that it goes from person-to-person, so think about people and what they come into contact with."

Dr Humphries said: "I agree with that 100%. Rigorous hand washing, cleaning down surfaces and trying to maintain social distancing as much as possible.

"And also I am a strong believer in wearing masks, it can reduce the spread significantly and especially for the asymptomatic spreader."

Will hot weather hamper the virus?

"A lot of people have expressed a lot of hope around this idea that this will be a seasonal virus and summer will bring it to an end," said Shaikh.

"And if you look at past viruses like SARS, summer did seem to help bring the virus to the end so that's one side.

"But the other side is that we haven't seen any evidence or data that COVID-19 will be affected in this way.

"And there was an outbreak in Singapore which is plenty warm all year round, and we've seen plenty of outbreaks in places that are already warm. So I think pinning your hopes on summer is a little bit of a pipe dream. "

Dr Humphries said: "I'm inclined to agree. According to what we know so far it's a much more transmissible virus than other seasonal ones and a lot of studies have shown that this virus can survive on surfaces a lot longer. So it's probably less susceptible to things like heat.

"But as we go through the summer, we have never seen this virus before, we've never seen the kinetics of this virus, so we have to go through our first summer period to be a 100% confident on how this drops off during the warmer weather. But I think going forward the sharp campaign for long term gain is worth it, so if we forgo our summer holidays this year there will be many more summers to come when we're safe and free from this virus.

What about the summer holidays? Will travel restrictions be lifted by then?

"I know I cancelled my own," said Shaikh. "For people to feel comfortable travelling again, there will need to be a few things in place. (...) One thing to think about is as the infection spreads and averages out, travel can resume.

"Another thing to think about is as we learn more about how it spreads and about infectiousness and what can of measures we can put in place around travel in airports, aeroplanes, railway stations to reduce the spread of the virus."

Dr Humphries said: "In a few months time we will probably have a much better understanding of the virus.

"You'll be able to establish if you have had the virus and we will be able to establish how good our immunity is against the virus, so I think that will inform a lot of decisions about how air travel can resume."

How can we expect immunity from COVID-19 if we don't have it from the flu?

"The flu vaccine is developed against the flu strain that emerges every season," said Dr Humphries.

"And because it's been around for a long time we know broadly how to treat and how to vaccinate against it.

"This is the first season of COVID-19 so we don't know 100 per cent if it's changing and if there is going to be a different strain every season. But when we do know that, it will be taken into account in the design of a final vaccine."

When the vaccine is found, how can we ensure proper distribution?

"There are two things that affect how fast a vaccine comes to market and gets used," said Shaikh. "First of all, there are actual hurdles in terms of the research time and developing a vaccine, you can't really rush that because there are certain timelines in place to see if the immune response is developing, you can't get around that.

"The second half is market incentives. Do manufacturers feel the market is there and are they going to be able to sell it once they are making it? And I think the market incentives are certainly there for COVID-19."

How long is this going to last and what should governments keep doing whilst we wait for effective drugs and a vaccine?

"It's difficult to predict how long our behaviour will have to change for," said Dr Humphries. "In the meantime, we should listen to the WHO, the CDC, epidemiologists and healthcare specialists that are giving us advice on how to proceed. Mitigation, social distancing, contact tracing, if we continue to do that and expand it to a huge capacity then the pain will be shorter."

"This is going to be a long-haul process," said Shaikh. "This is not going to be resolved in weeks or even months, we have to be thinking in a long time frame and we have to be thinking that there are things that may never go back to what we think was normal, maybe some changes are going to be permanent because COVID-19 may not be the last infectious disease that we see."