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THE WASHINGTON POST

Seoul To Stockholm, Living With The Cycles Of A Virus

People in Seoul wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus.
People in Seoul wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of coronavirus.
Rozena Crossman

Today, you may read about lockdowns being loosened in COVID-19 hotspots like France or Spain or the U.K. But you may also discover that Germany, widely lauded for keeping infection rates relatively low, has seen an uptick in their number of coronavirus cases since they relaxed certain social distancing restrictions. Turn farther to the East, to South Korea — the supposed poster child for effective management of the crisis — and you'll find out that one 29-year-old's Seoul bar crawl last weekend has set off a new rash of cases, and forced officials to reimpose restrictions on businesses.


We talk a lot about quarantining and de-quarantining, a tricky maneuver for any government tasked with trying to control the behavior of millions of people who are used to the most basic freedom of movement. Here in France, today, May 11, has been marked on the calendar for the past month as the supposed "end" to the national lockdown. The rendezvous was maintained, but frankly not much has changed.


After months of riding these ups and downs, perhaps it's time for nations to discuss long-term plans with their people, acknowledging that, until a vaccine arrives, our lives to some extent are in the hands of a virus that the world's best scientists are still trying to understand. Inevitably, it will create the kinds of ups and downs, cycles of activities and emotions, that we must adjust to.


U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein tried to put it in clear terms last month for the public: "All the predictions are no vaccine for upwards of a year, so that means we've got to refine our ability to survive and operate and do the missions the nation requires. And we've got to bring back those missions that we slowed down, so we can get back to some kind of a sense of new normalcy in an abnormal world… Until we have a vaccine, we're going to be living with this virus and the potential for it to come back in some cyclical way is likely."


What will this new "cycle of life" look like? The answer, to some degree, depends on the country. Sweden's leaders believe Stockholm will achieve herd immunity in a month's time thanks to their citizens' ability to diligently follow their relatively loose lockdown measures. Meanwhile, part of Iran, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, is heading back indoors as their denizens "failed to follow social distancing rules." There isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to how we organize our agendas for the next year, but a straightforward conversation about learning to live with coronavirus will serve the whole world well.


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