Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic after it spread like wildfire, across six continents, and infected 130 countries.
A pandemic describes an infectious disease which affects large numbers of people, spreading in multiple countries across the globe, at the same time.
Coronavirus has hit the spot.
In less than a month, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world has substantially multiplied with 75,000 cases on February 20 to 220,000 on March 20.
The numbers call attention to the fact that efforts to contain the outbreak have failed.
For instance, in Italy, more than 60 million people are forced to live under lock-down since the country is reportedly witnessing a rise at the rate of around 3,500 new cases every day and the death toll has topped 2,500.
Referring to the state of urgency in Italy, it becomes inevitable to note that an overwhelming number of cases can destabilise the health sector in society.
A rapid growth in the number of tests and positive cases will brim the hospitals to their capacity, require hundreds of thousands of doctors and emergency supplies of medical equipment.
In epidemiology which is the study of populations, the idea of slowing a virus' spread which results in fewer people needing to seek treatment at any given time is known as "flattening the curve."
Simply put, the flattening or bending of the curve is an attempt to stop a spike in the number of cases. It can mitigate the spread of the disease, deaths and overburdening of the health care system.
The term refers to a curve in a chart that rises as the number of cases of a particular infectious disease increase, then starts to fall as that number goes down.
The curve varies in shapes depending on the virus's infection rate.
A steep curve represents a situation where the virus spreads at a rapid rate, skyrocketing the total number of cases within a few weeks.
The local health care system is bound to get overburdened with a sudden influx of infected people which poses potential challenges of running out ICU beds, hospital running out of supplies during the outbreak.
Several studies have suggested that the curves with a steep rise also have a steep fall, where the number of cases starts declining.
On the other hand, a flatter curve refers to the slowing down the transmission of infectious disease where the same number of people get infected, but over a longer period of time.
This minimises the potential impact on the health care system, medical staff, and ensures that fewer sick people are being turned away.
For instance, China, which a few weeks ago, had an outburst of coronavirus cases, has eventually reduced the number of new cases. A good example of the concept of flattening the curve.
At the given situation when there is no vaccine or medication to treat the virus and there are inherent limitations on testing, the key to flattening the curve is through social distancing.
Social distancing refers to the conscious measures that are taken to increase physical space between people to slow the spread of the virus.
By maintaining a distance of six feet from others when possible, people may limit the spread of the disease.
Working from home, closing educational institutions, postponement or cancellation of mass gatherings are some of the ways to social distance oneself as a precautionary measure.
The efforts put in by the governments to flatten the coronavirus curve in their respective countries assumes significance in terms of efficient management of available resources.
Slowing the transmission of COVID-19 virus ensures adequate supplies including gowns, masks, ventilators and other medical facilities are provided to patients who are either contract the disease or the individuals portraying the symptoms.