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‘No need for masks,’ ‘insignificant risk’: which COVID-19 predictions ended up false?

TASS has collected some predictions made at the early stages of COVID-19 spread

MOSCOW, March 11. /TASS/. The novel coronavirus was documented in China in late 2019. Back then, no one could predict that it would cause the first pandemic in a century and radically change the life of humankind.

TASS collected some predictions made at the early stages of COVID-19 spread to see which ones came true and which ones ended up false.

Initial risk assessment

"The risk of a constantly spreading epidemic should be considered very insignificant," Wuhan’s health committee informed on January 15, 2020. Wuhan was the first hotspot of the pandemic.

Back then, the Chinese government did not consider human-to-human transmission of the virus a proven fact - Chinese officials confirmed it five days later, on January 20.

By February 1, according to official data, over 11,700 people were infected with the disease In China. First cases of infection were documented in at least two dozen countries.

Danger for Russia and US

"It is impossible to fully eliminate the possibility of the novel coronavirus entering Russia. However, even if the novel coronavirus enters the Russian Federation, the possibility of the virus’ wide spread can be considered low," the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing said on January 21, 2020.

US officials were of a similar opinion. "Right now, we have a handful of cases in the US, and right now, it is not spreading in the community and we believe the risk to the general American public is low," Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Nancy Messonnier said on January 27, 2020, when first cases of the coronavirus were documented in the US.

Neither Russia nor the US managed to avoid a large-scale COVID-19 epidemic: the US ranks first on the amount of documented cases of the disease, and Russia makes the top-5.

Predicted death toll

Debora Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator said on April 1 that even "if we [the US] do things almost perfectly," she still predicts up to 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the country.

Back then, the US registered about 6,600 coronavirus-related deaths, and this prediction might have seemed too grim. However, it turned out to be an optimistic one: on February 23, 2021, the COVID-19 death toll in the US surpassed 500,000.

Danger of a second wave

Russia’s former chief sanitary doctor and now a member of the lower parliament house, Gennady Onishchenko said on July 7, 2020 that coronavirus circulation will be detected "in October-March 2020-2021" among other respiratory diseases, "but no more than that." He added that "there will be no dramatic situation or panic."

However, the rise in COVID-19 infection rate recorded during the fall was much stronger than the spring outbreak: in May, fewer than 11,700 coronavirus cases were documented at the peak of its spread, while by late November, over 27,000 daily cases were recorded, and in December, this figure approached 30,000.

About mask use

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post published in late January: "The Ministry of Health, Singapore has advised that we only need to wear a mask if we are sick. There is no need to wear a mask if we are well."

Singapore was one of the first countries to document cases of the coronavirus. Two months later, the officials changed their minds about the use of protective masks: on April 3, the PM said in an address to the nation that it is necessary to wear masks, and on April 5, the government began to hand them out for free.

Deadline for lifting restrictions

Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko predicted back on June 16, 2020 that the COVID-19 restrictive measures could be lifted in February 2021.

Back then, Russian regions were abandoning strict measures as the cases dwindled during the summer, but they were forced to reintroduce them in the fall. However, the PM’s prediction ended up mostly true: by mid-February 2021, after a drop in COVID-19 cases following the rise of the infection rate in the fall and in the winter, Russia retained only some of the coronavirus-related measures.

COVID-19 vaccination

Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus predicted on February 11, 2020 that the first COVID-19 vaccine could be ready in 18 months.

His prediction turned out to be a pessimistic one: the first coronavirus vaccine was officially registered on August 11. It was a Russian vaccine dubbed Sputnik V.