How Epidemics End

As Covid-19 drags on and new vaccines promise imminent widespread immunity, the world’s attention has turned to 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?  The multi-disciplinary research project 'How Epidemics Ends' brings together a range of researchers 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 multidisciplinary 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 multidisciplinary project 'How Epidemics End' is based at Oxford's Centre for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology and Oxford's Centre for Global History and is led by Dr Erica Charters and Dr Kristin Heitman.  It is supported by the Wellcome Trust [grant number 204826/Z/16/Z] and by the University of Oxford's OUP John Fell Research Fund.