AFTER some success in lowering the daily deaths and new cases of coronavirus, several countries are slowly relaxing lockdowns in an attempt to revive economic activity. In Europe, the hardest-hit countries which include the UK, Italy, Spain and France, are rolling out plans for some sectors such as construction and primary schools to open up after nearly seven weeks of closure. In the US, the president has left it to the governor of each state to ease restrictions, which has led to the easing of lockdowns in Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska. Many of these countries have told citizens to wear face coverings in public and practise distancing at shopping centres, with some — especially in Europe — still limiting public gatherings such as weddings.
While there is no doubt that the coronavirus and forced shutdowns have unleashed economic hardship, the reality of the viruses’ deadly nature persists. Although the emotional and financial toll of this uncertain new era already seems unbearable, the truth is that the world is still in the early stages of the pandemic and must be vigilant. In doing so, it must adapt to rapidly changing scenarios — such as a possible second wave as has been reported in China. As countries open up and the possibility of transmission grows, mistakes made in the first wave will become essential learnings. For example, the UK was too late to lock down and therefore saw its healthcare system become overwhelmed as Covid-19 cases spiked. The situation has forced British authorities to look for local manufacturers for PPE and ramp up daily tests. The increased testing, dedicated isolation centres and mechanisms for contact-tracing developed during lockdowns should help countries that are now opening up. Here, Vietnam serves as an excellent example of the learnings it employed from the Sars outbreak nearly two decades ago. As it recognised its healthcare limitations, it was one of the quickest to alert its citizens and take action. This timeliness, aggressive infection control and targeted awareness campaign for its population are strong factors behind its zero reported deaths. In a country that borders China and with a population of over 90m, this is an undeniable success — and proof that ‘overreaction’ and caution can save lives and also justify the reopening of commercial activity. While many countries have learned these lessons the hard way, after ghastly death tolls and the crippling of healthcare systems, they must remain vigilant and react quickly when the second wave comes.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2020