Many medical experts expressed concern about what might happen when restrictions were relaxed and the ecomony reopened. The experience in Europe offers hope that it is possible to restart the economy without triggering a new wave of the COVID.

THE Washington Post reports:

ROME — When Italy ended its lockdown one month ago, Angelo Pan, an infectious-disease doctor, was worried. His hospital, at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak, braced for the possibility that progress against the coronavirus might slow or reverse — and that beds might again become crowded with people struggling to breath.

But that is not what has happened.

In Italy and across most of Europe, countries have restarted their economies and resumed a degree of socializing without visible signs of the dire health consequences forecast by many. Pan’s northern Italian hospital, rather than seeing an uptick, has been able to restore once-paused services and dismantle the intensive care beds added during the emergency.

As of Friday, it hadn’t admitted a coronavirus intensive care patient in 12 days.

It’s amazing that [the virus] has not started back,” said Pan, who leads the infectious-disease unit at the public hospital in Cremona.

Virologists from Milan to Berlin have become much more optimistic about Europe’s ability to manage the pandemic and say that, at least through the summer, the continent might have nothing more than localized and hopefully-containable hot spots.

Europe’s experience, at least so far, suggests that sending children back to school, reopening restaurants and even making way for large outdoor protests does not lead to an inevitable resurgence of the virus.

But scientists also readily admit there’s much they don’t know about the idiosyncrasies of this virus. They are still trying to make sense of why it is behaving as it has in Europe and whether those trends will hold — and what the answers might mean for the rest of the world.

Many disease experts say enduring behavioral changes, from hand-washing to mask-wearing, could by themselves be substantially limiting the spread in Europe. They say the continued ban of large-scale events is probably capping the damage wrought by highly contagious people — the “super-spreaders” who account for much of the transmission.

They also say there’s growing evidence that the virus could be proving seasonal — ebbing based on the temperature or other climactic conditions. Though warmer weather doesn’t stop the virus, it can aid in the fight.

Europeans, heeding warnings that the virus is more transmissible indoors, have adapted their lives accordingly — something easier to do in warmer months. In Rome, the parks and alfresco restaurant tables are full; the tables indoors are empty. 

In Germany, confined indoor gatherings have led to small outbreaks, while outdoor mass demonstrations against the lockdown in several cities — some drawing thousands of people — have not led to obvious consequences.

“There might be [open-air] transmissions occurring but they are rare,” said Dirk Brockmann, a professor at Humboldt University in Berlin who models infectious diseases for Germany’s Robert Koch Institute, the federal agency tasked with disease control.

“When you are in a club and there are hundreds of people dancing and breathing and yelling in a confined space — that’s a whole different ballgame,” Brockmann said.

One contested theory, aired by two Italian doctors this past week, is that the virus has weakened or become less aggressive. Many health officials have pushed back forcefully against that claim, saying there is no peer-reviewed evidence of such changes, and that cases every day are still proving deadly.

Massimo Ciccozzi, head of the molecular epidemiology unit at the Rome-based University Campus Bio-Medico, said his lab would be studying ways the virus may have mutated. But he said there were other reasons serious pneumonias might be developing less frequently — among them, the wider use of new therapies. Other experts have raised the possibility that a younger cohort of people is now being infected.

There is accumulating evidence that the “viral load” is linked to the severity of the infection, and that outdoor summer transmissions could make for a milder disease.

“It’s like a huge, huge puzzle,” Ciccozzi said. “Every day you find a piece.”
All the while, in country after European country, reported daily case numbers have not just leveled off, like in parts of the United States, but continued to plummet.

In Italy, the number of coronavirus patients in ICUs has declined from 4,000, at the peak in early April, to 400; it ticked down every single day of May. In Germany, many contact tracing teams sit idle, without enough new infections to trace. In Belgium, which had been one of the worst-hit countries, hospitals are clearing out, and doctors don’t report any unusual spikes in patients reporting flu-like symptoms.