WHO regional director urges for caution in lifting coronavirus lockdowns

Members of a medical team wearing protective gear walk past a corona mobile testing van at a neighborhood in Ahmedabad, India, on April 7, 2020. Photo Xinhua
  • Xinhua
  • April 21, 2020 8:56 AM

MANILA -- The World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for the Western Pacific on Tuesday urged countries to be more cautious in lifting COVID-19 lockdowns, warning of a resurgence of infections if current restrictions are relaxed too soon.

Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, told an online media briefing that lockdown measures have proven effective in slowing and reducing transmission of the highly infectious disease while easing the burden on the overstretched health system.

"This is going to be a long battle. This is not the time to relax," Kasai said in an online coronavirus media briefing.

Instead, he stressed the need to be ready for "a new way of living that strikes the right balance between the measures to keep the virus in check and enable vital parts of the economy and society to function."

Kasai urged the peoples in the region to protect themselves, their family and their community by physically distancing, frequently cleaning hands, covering coughs and sneeze, and staying at home and away from others especially when sick.

He also urged the private sector to adopt new ways of working such as establishing staff to work from home where possible and other measures to reduce the risk of infections in the workplace.

"For the government this means preparing for the worst, having a system that works in every corner of the country to detect and care for people in case of large-scale community transmission," he said.

Already, Kasai said COVID-19 has upended millions of peoples' lives and has caused a major economic impact on the world. The governments in the region are making "extremely complex decisions about introducing or enhancing or easing or lifting lockdowns and physical distancing measures," he said.

"As we move forward in these difficult times, our lives, our health systems and approach to stopping transmission must continue to adapt and evolve along with the epidemic," he said.

Until a vaccine is found, he said this process of adapting to the epidemic will have to become a new normal.

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach to doing this but WHO strongly urges that decisions on measures be guided by public health principles, the lifting of lockdowns and other measures that need to be done gradually," he said.

"If restrictions are relaxed or lifted before the strong system is in place to identify, isolate and care for this sick, and trace and quarantine their contacts, this will likely lead to a resurgence of diseases," he warned.

"As long as the new coronavirus is circulating no country is safe from potentially overwhelming outbreaks," Kasai said, stressing the need to be vigilant and to work together to contain the viral disease.

Kasai also welcomed efforts by countries with COVID-19 experience like China to share their best practices on how to control the disease to countries in the region.

"And I think it's very important the countries which have the experience to share those experience to the countries that are really trying to ramp up their effective response, and I really wanted to continue to encourage and support that kind of things occur in these missions."

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