A COVID-19 drive thru test centre in Dubai
A COVID-19 drive thru test centre in Dubai Image Credit: Virendra Saklani, Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: The number of coronavirus cases in the UAE has been rising steadily since the first patient was detected here in February. With strict movement restrictions in place, residents are beginning to wonder when the coronavirus curve in the UAE will finally peak.

In recent days, senior health officials have declined to set a timeline for it. But medical professionals remain hopeful that the stringent social distancing and hygiene measures will not only help daily case numbers to reach their highest level soon but also help the curve to flatten.

The general consensus is that the number of COVID-19 cases should peak sometime after four weeks, with the assumption that residents adhere to precautionary measures.

Yesterday, the country announced 412 cases, the highest daily number yet, bringing the total nationwide tally to 4,933.

What is the curve?

The coronavirus curve shows the number of people who contract COVID-19 over a given period. This statistical model is usually bell-shaped. The higher the bell, the sharper the rise in the number of daily new cases. This means that too many people are getting infected at the same time, placing tremendous strain on a country or region’s healthcare system. A flatter curve, on the other hand, indicates that the same number of people are being infected over a longer period of time.

When the number of daily new cases becomes stable or begins to decline, the curve is said to have peaked.

When will it peak in UAE?

Dr Fatemah Aghanasiri

“COVID-19 is still a new disease and we don’t know much about it yet. However, as per the epidemiological model based on global population data and travel patterns, mid-May to mid-June is estimated to be when the number of cases peaks in the UAE,” said Dr Fatemeh Aghanasiri, general practitioner at Aster Clinic, Arabian Ranches.

A similar timeline has also been suggested by a doctor at a public health facility during an interview with local media outlets, but he stressed the need for social distancing to achieve this.

Dr Maher Balkis

“It takes much longer to recover from COVID-19 than it does to become infected. As there is no specific cure, recovery relies on a person’s own immune system to fight off the virus, supported by specialist medical care. We are seeing very positive outcomes among our patients and we expect to see the number of recoveries continue to rise now that patients have had time to recover,” said Dr Maher Bilkis, associate staff physician for infectious diseases at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

Is a peak possible earlier?

Other physicians are even more hopeful, given the extensive precautions implemented across the country.

Dr Hiba Mashkoola

“The UAE has taken so many measures over the last two weeks that I cannot help but be hopeful. Chief among these are the many drive-through screening centres that are now operating across the country, making testing available to all, and the requirement to wear face masks in public,” said Dr Hiba Mashkoola, family physician at Medcare Medical Centre, Sharjah.

“With the number of patients screened being maximised, I feel that all suspect and asymptomatic cases will be screened shortly, and the number of new cases will peak very soon, even as early as next week,” she added.

What affects the curve?

Dr Charles Stanford, senior director at VPS Healthcare, explained that the rate of rise of new patients depends on population density, the degree of association between people, the degree of quarantine imposed, and the availability of treatments and vaccines.

Dr Charles Stanford

“Eventually, a peak is reached when fewer people are exposed to the virus because of education about hygiene and distancing, quarantine measures, earlier diagnoses and available therapies. After this peak, there will be a fall off until the numbers reach zero or there is only a small number of patients diagnosed for a longer period,” he explained.

When did other countries peak?

According to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, China was the first country to flatten its curve. The country detected its first case in December 2019, and its Hubei province epicentre was locked down at the end of January. The country reached its highest number of daily detected infections – 15,000 – on February 12, after which rates began to decline. Two-and-a-half months later, the country lifted the Wuhan lockdown.

South Korea was one of the first countries to announce a confirmed COVID-19 case as early as January 20. The country hit its peak of 1,062 new cases on February 29, and has maintained a largely downward trend in daily infections since then.

The second hardest-hit country, Italy, reported 6,000 new cases on March 20, which appears to have been its peak since the first case was reported on January 30. Since then, daily new cases have hovered between 4,000 to 4,800. With the country in lockdown for more than four weeks, its coronavirus curve now appears to be flattening.

A number of other Asian countries – namely Singapore, Taiwan and Japan – have managed to successfully maintain flatter curves, thus ensuring that their healthcare systems are able to successfully cope with the rate of daily infections, even as the numbers rise.

*This story has been updated with the latest number of confirmed cases in UAE