As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, new vaccines promise imminent widespread immunity, and countries contemplate their approaches to easing restrictions, much of the world’s attention centres around predicting how the present pandemic will end.
Many such predictions invoke historical antecedents—typically the plague, smallpox, the 1918 influenza, and SARS. Others make use of mathematical models to trace the downward epidemic (or “epi”) curve and thereby forecast end dates. Yet the end of an epidemic includes not only the decline of disease incidence and associated deaths, but also the lifting of public health regulations and the associated political, social, and economic restrictions. The formal end of an epidemic thus signals a return to normal life.
But how do societies know when an epidemic is over and normal life can resume? What are the criteria and markers of an epidemic’s end, and who has the insight, authority, and credibility to decipher these signs?
Based at Oxford's Centre for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology and Centre for Global History, the multi-disciplinary research project 'How Epidemics Ends' brings together researchers from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and draws on a variety of methodological insights and experiences of previous epidemics to examine the ways in which epidemics have ended across previous eras and locations. It will synthesize a range of multi-disciplinary case studies that will identify the conditions and methods that allow societies to regard an epidemic as having ended. Read the project’s framework article here.
The project is also exploring these questions through a series of video interviews with its researchers, now available on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLbPH9ZxV_xgwp_M-m-wKVRq8CIyzmeFPq. The interviews cover topics including pandemic ethics, the history of cholera, and the political life of epidemics, with more videos still to come.
To find out more, see the project’s website: https://epidemics.web.ox.ac.uk/home#/