WHO warns against lifting lockdown restrictions too early

GENEVA, 26 March 2020:

The World Health Organisation (WHO) yesterday warned against prematurely lifting measures aimed at combating the spread of the novel coronavirus, saying a reversal of course could lead to a flood of new cases and further exacerbate the situation.

“The last thing any country needs is to reopen schools and businesses only to close them again because of a resurgence in cases,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of that Geneva-based organisation.

US president Donald Trump, said this week during a Fox News virtual town hall that he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter (Sunday),” which this year falls on April 12.

Trump, who is up for re-election this year, is eager to avoid further damage to the world’s largest economy, whose gross domestic product will shrink by around 6% in the first quarter before plunging by an unprecedented 24% in the second quarter, according to forecasts by Goldman Sachs economists.

But encouraging Americans to get on with their lives entails major risks – considering that the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US is currently growing by more than 10,000 per day, the largest in absolute terms worldwide.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has gone much further in dismissing the risks of the coronavirus, describing it as “a little cold” and saying no people other than the sick and elderly should be confined to their residences.

Tedros, in sharp contrast, called for aggressive measures to contain the pandemic that include not only forcing people to remain at home but also ramping up testing to identify as many cases of the disease as possible, equipping facilities that will be used to treat and isolate patients and quarantining all of their close contacts.

The WHO’s figures indicate dozens of countries still have fewer than 100 Covid-19 cases each and therefore still have time to take steps to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus in their communities and avoid the severe economic and social costs afflicting other nations.

“This is especially relevant for many vulnerable countries whose health systems may collapse under the weight of the numbers of patients we’ve seen in some countries with community transmission.”

The WHO director-general said the world squandered its first opportunity to contain the pandemic, leading to the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases and coronavirus-related deaths to soar to more than 460,000 and above 21,000, respectively.

He added that the second window of opportunity is narrowing.

Tedros praised the coronavirus response of India, whose government ordered the total confinement of that country of 1.3 billion inhabitants, saying taking that step when the nation still has less than 700 confirmed Covid-19 cases will help prevent the virus from expanding domestically and becoming a much more serious problem.