The World Health Organization warned countries against abruptly dropping restrictions aimed at slowing the new coronavirus’s march around the world, saying that careful planning is needed to prevent an economically destructive cycle of repeated lockdowns.
A transition strategy is vital to avoid repeated quarantines, Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s emergencies program, said at a press briefing in Geneva. “If we lurch from lockdown to poor control back to lockdown and back to poor control, that is not what anybody needs right now,” Ryan said.
Countries around the world have frozen public life to try to halt the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 1 million people around the world, killing more than 56 000 of them. The control measures have challenged economies, with more than 90 countries already seeking financial help related to the pandemic, according to the International Monetary Fund. The WHO also said it’s suspending its house-to-house polio vaccination program because of the risk of contagion.
Public health officials have warned that simply quelling the current wave of infections won’t be enough to stop the pandemic. As long as the virus lingers and there’s a large number of people who haven’t yet been exposed, there’s a risk of resurgence.
Stop and start
Stop-and-start lockdowns will be even more damaging to the economy, Ryan warned. He called for massive investment in tracing the contacts of infected people as well as a “comprehensive architecture of public health and health care” to address outbreaks when they emerge.
“If we want to reach that situation where we can live with this virus, and have our economies back on track, we have to make those other investments,” he said.
The WHO also moderated its stance on wearing masks. While home-made masks and cloth mouth coverings won’t prevent individuals from becoming infected, they may make it less likely that an infected person — who might not be aware of their infection — will spread the virus to others, Ryan said. Medical masks and respirators should be reserved for frontline health workers and others caring for the infected, he said.
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