During the last five months, over 290,000 people worldwide have died from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected over 4 million people around the world. Many countries adopted lockdown measures to protect the largest number of people possible, slow the spread of the virus, and allow health services to cope.
After many weeks in lockdown, some of these countries have relaxed these measures. Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has invited governments to reflect on three questions that "can help determine whether a lockdown can be released slowly or not."
“First, is the epidemic under control? Second, is the healthcare system able to cope with a resurgence of cases that may arise after relaxing certain measures? Third, is the public health surveillance system able to detect and manage the cases and their contacts, and identify a resurgence of cases?” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked during the media briefing on Covid-19 on May 11.
The WHO notes that even when the answers are positive, things can easily shift back. Over the last weekend, an increase in cases has been reported in both South Korea and Germany. Similarly, Wuhan, where the pandemic is believed to have originated, saw its first cluster of cases since the lockdown was eased about a month ago.
"Fortunately, all three countries have systems in place to detect and respond to a resurgence in cases," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
In many countries, there have been concerns about easing lockdown measures too soon, especially in places where testing continues to be sporadic and where hospitals, medical practices, and care homes continue to struggle with the disease. A second peak of infections too soon could increase the number of deaths.
However, the WHO notes that the economy affects lives too. "Therefore, to protect lives and livelihoods, a slow, steady, lifting of lockdowns is key to both stimulating economies, while also keeping a vigilant eye on the virus so that control measures can be quickly implemented if an upswing in cases is identified."
Lockdown measures in the United Kingdom have been eased, despite 494 deaths and 3,242 new cases reported in the last 24 hours. Many areas of the US are also easing lockdown strategies. This has been a cause for concern as the numbers of both infected and dead continue to climb in certain areas of the US. A leaked White House report shows that some rural areas are experiencing a ten-fold increase in infections. Over 1,370,000 people have been infected in the US with Covid-19, a number that it is likely to increase.
"WHO is working closely with governments to ensure that key public health measures remain in place to deal with the challenge of lifting lockdowns," added Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"Until there is a vaccine, the comprehensive package of measures is our most effective set of tools to tackle the virus."