What the coronavirus end game will look like

The biggest impact is likely to be on the young and old. Children are less able to carry out the basic hygiene and touch-avoidance measures that help slow infections, so school closures like those imposed in Hong Kong and now in Japan could crop up elsewhere.

Aged care homes may see even more serious restrictions. Covid-19 seems to particularly target the elderly and those with other existing conditions. One recent study of more than 72,000 cases in China found a fatality rate of 2.3% across all age groups, rising to 8% for people in their 70s and 15% for people above 80. Minimizing the risks to older people will probably put significant pressure on aged care facilities, especially if staff are infected themselves, or called away to look after children sent home from shuttered schools.

Fortunately, the most severe period of initial infection could soon be fading. Respiratory diseases flourish in the cold season and taper off as the weather warms up. That should cause infection rates to slow in the northern hemisphere, while continuing at a lower level in tropical regions and spiking in temperate parts of the southern hemisphere where winter will be setting in. When a new year rolls around, the bulk of the disease will shift back to the northern hemisphere, to begin the cycle again.