Billions are now living under different forms of lockdown across the globe, a preventive move to stop the spread of the coronavirus. But, as weeks or even months go by, many are starting to wonder when will they be able to get back to their usual lives.
While the lockdown will end sooner or later depending on the country, we should all be ready to “change our behaviors for the foreseeable future,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has just updated its advice on when to lift COVID-19 lockdown orders.
The question of when to ease shutdowns is a hot topic, as economic output is stalled in many countries. Economic activities, in general, have stopped across the globe, with restaurants, shopping centers, and stores closed as people have to stay at home, working remotely if possible .
“One of the main things we’ve learned in the past months about COVID-19 is that the faster all cases are found, tested, isolated & cared for, the harder we make it for the virus to spread,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus via Twitter. “This principle will save lives & mitigate the economic impact.”
The coronavirus has killed tens of thousands of people, reshaping society and disrupting daily life for people around the world – including 1.4 billion children that can’t go to school, WHO said. The pandemic has triggered massive losses for big companies and small businesses and forced millions of people out of work.
Despite all the personal and economic pain the coronavirus has caused, WHO officials say that in many places, it’s too soon to get back to normal. And because any premature attempts to restart economies could trigger secondary peaks in COVID-19 cases, they warn that the process must be deliberate and widely coordinated.
“You can’t replace lockdown with nothing,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said at a recent briefing. Stressing the importance of a well-informed and committed population, he added, “We are going to have to change our behaviors for the foreseeable future.”
Any government that wants to start lifting restrictions must first meet six conditions, according to the WHO:
- Disease transmission is under control
- Health systems are able to “detect, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact”
- Hot spot risks are minimized in vulnerable places, such as nursing homes
- Schools, workplaces and other essential places have established preventive measures
- The risk of importing new cases “can be managed”
- Communities are fully educated, engaged and empowered to live under a new normal
The worldwide number of COVID-19 cases is quickly approaching the 2 million mark, including more than 120,000 people who have died, according to a COVID-19 dashboard created by Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering.
Even in instances where governments can lift some lockdown conditions, Ryan said, “health workers are going to have to continue to use protective equipment and we’re going to have to continue to have intensive care beds on standby, because as we come out of these lockdown situations, we may see a jump back up in cases.”
The goal is to taper restrictions so governments – in communities, cities, and nations — can avoid a cycle of new COVID-19 outbreaks. “We don’t want to lurch from lockdown to nothing to lockdown to nothing,” Ryan said. “We need to have a much more stable exit strategy that allows us to move carefully and persistently away from lockdown.”