The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that a premature lifting of restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus pandemic could spark a deadly resurgence, as global deaths from the virus topped the 100,000 mark.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Saturday that countries should be cautious about easing restrictions, even as some struggle with the adverse economic impact.
Globally there were 1.6 million cases of coronavirus and 101,000 deaths.
“I know that some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions. WHO wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone”, he told a virtual press conference in Geneva. At the same time, lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence. The way down could be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly.
Top US infectious disease expert also cautioned against moves to relax restrictions, echoing calls from other global public health officials but putting him at odds with President Donald Trump, who is agitating for a reopening of the coronavirus-battered US economy.
Anthony Fauci, Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said now is not the time to back off on restrictions, despite what he described as favourable signs in Americ’s early hotspots.
“We would want to see a clear indication that you were very, very clearly and strongly going in the right direction, because the one thing you don’t want to do is you don’t want to get out there prematurely and then wind up back in the same situation”, he told CNN.
Trump, seemingly concerned by deflating approval ratings and exploding unemployment figures, had told reporters that he hoped to open up the economy very, very, very, very soon.
On Friday, the president also said he would announce next week a council of business and medical leaders to help him with the biggest decision I’ve ever had to make on when to reopen America for business.
Trump added: “I want to get it open as soon as possible. This country was meant to be open and vibrant and great … The facts are going to determine what I do. But we do want to get the country open.”
According to a report in the Washington Post, the US president wants to reopen the country next month despite concerns from both economists and health experts that America’s coronavirus pandemic is nowhere near over.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, also warned Trump against trying to get back to normality prematurely. “I would hope that the scientific community would weigh in and say, ˜You can’t do this, it is only going to make matters worse if you go out too soon, Pelosi said in an interview with Politico.
US deaths owing to the coronavirus topped 17,000 on Friday, although there were signs that Americans staying home was curbing new infections. More than 7,000 people have died in New York State alone, but its governor, Andrew Cuomo, expressed cautious optimism on Friday that the state’s infection rate was slowing.
In the latest sign of tensions with the US, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the outbreak as too slow.
In a preview of an interview for Der Spiegel, Maas took aim at the two extremes of national coronavirus responses, contrasting China’s every authoritarian measures with America’s decision to play down the threat for a very long time.
“These are two extremes, neither of which can be a model for Europe, Maas said.
A German official last week accused the US of wild west tactics in outbidding for or blocking shipments of vital medical supplies, and Maas said he hoped the US would rethink its international relationships in light of the crisis.
At his news briefing, Tedros, the WHO chief, also laid out six factors for consideration, which include that transmission is controlled and sufficient public health and medical services are available.
Outbreak risks in settings such as long-term care facilities also need to be minimized, while workplaces, schools and other essential locations should have preventive measures in place.
“Fifth, that importation risks can be managed,” he continued, “and sixth – and I cannot over-emphasize this point – that communities are fully aware and engaged in the transition. Every single person has a role to play in ending this pandemic”.
Meanwhile, some countries are reporting that more than 10 per cent of their health workers have been infected by the new coronavirus, indicative of what Tedros described as “an alarming trend”.
Evidence from China, Italy, Singapore, Spain and the United States shows that some infections are occurring outside health facilities, so at home or in communities.
Factors for infection in health settings include late recognition of COVID-19 and lack of training or experience in dealing with respiratory pathogens. Many health workers are also being exposed to large numbers of patients during long shifts with inadequate rest periods.
“However, the evidence also shows that when health workers wear personal protective equipment the right way, infections can be prevented”, said Tedros.
“That makes it even more important that health workers are able to access the masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE they need to do their jobs safely and effectively”.
WHO said it continues to support countries in securing supplies and equipment, and in scaling up procurement and distribution of these items.
He estimated that each month, the recently launched UN Supply Chain Task Force will need to ship 100 million medical masks and gloves; up to 25 million respirators, gowns and face shields, and 2.5 million diagnostic tests, among other supplies.
While there has been a “welcome slowing” of COVID-19 cases in European countries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as Spain and Italy, Tedros said the virus is spreading to rural areas in Africa.