By JESSICA PAG-IWAYAN

For almost half a year now since the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in Hubei, China back in December 2019, more than 4.71 million cases have been confirmed around the globe, with 315,000 deaths.
To protect their people and to prevent the further spread of the disease, governments around the world have imposed lockdowns. This strategy has proven to be effective in helping flatten the curve, but is it enough for people to feel safe and for their governments to ease lockdown rules?

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Workers wearing protective masks stand by to hitch a ride as some industries resume operations with limited public transportation available, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 18, 2020. (REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez / MANILA BULLETIN)

 
Large scale transmission
In a recently held World Economic Forum and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) inaugural Asia media briefing, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, regional director for WHO Western Pacific, said that while countries in the Asia Pacific were in different stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, everyone should be ready for “large scale community transmission.”
“In the western Pacific regions, we have more than 164,000 confirmed cases, and around 66,000 people have lost their lives. Countries and areas across our regions are at different stages of the pandemic,” he said.

“We are conscious that the pandemic is far from over. And countries should continue to prepare for a large-scale community transmission by engaging communities and strengthening healthcare capacities.”


He then commended the region’s fast response to the pandemic that, according to him, has helped saved thousands of lives.
“The key to controlling Covid-19 in this region has been proactively finding and isolating the cases, tracing, and planting the contact and introducing a stringent public health distancing measure, including a moving control comparatively early in the outbreak,” Dr. Kasai said. “They have averted what would have been devastating consequences in an uncontrolled Covid-19 pandemic. Hospitals have not been overwhelmed and many deaths have been prevented.”

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Dr. Takeshi Kasai

 
Leaving lockdown
While he acknowledged that the response to the pandemic varied from country to country because of social values and cultural differences, he reminded government officials that every decision should be based on scientific evidence. He said that the easing of lockdown measures too early might result in devastating effects.
“What remains true across different country contexts is that the process shouldn’t be rushed. Easing restrictions too quickly will bring on a resurgence of diseases,” he explained. “It needs to be done in phases, based on scientific evidence, and the data on the local context. And when restrictions are eased, the key to control the virus is to ensure a well-functioning system to detect and isolate cases, and trace and quarantine their contacts.”

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(REUTERS/Eloisa / MANILA BULLETIN) 

Second wave
When asked about the dangers and the possibility of a second wave of Covid-19 cases, just like what’s happening in China and South Korea, Dr. Kasai admitted that as long as the virus was still around, no one would be safe.
“As long as the virus is circulating somewhere in this interconnected world, and until we have a safe and effective vaccine, I think everybody will remain at risk,” he answered. “Therefore, every country—the countries that are now planning to also ease their lockdowns—needs to be a vigilant.”
He then asked countries to improve their Covid-19 detecting capabilities, and to use lockdowns as opportunities to do mass testing and to isolate positive patients. “We’re also really encouraging every country to use this time to prepare for a large-scale community outbreak,” he said. “The countries in our regions are trying to continue to invest in and improve the [healthcare] system to detect the cases early, isolate, and then also do contact tracing.”
He also emphasized that efforts shouldn’t end with mass testing alone. Instead, countries should use data from this testing to assess their situation and improve their strategies.
“Testing is a very important component as a part of response, but what is important is for the testing to trigger public health interventions. And results should be used to assess where they are in terms of the pandemic,” he said. “It’s understandable that everyone’s eager to move on. And in the Asia Pacific region and beyond, WHO is working with countries on how to ease measures safely, in a way that protects public health, prevents new waves of infections, and allows society to regain some degree of normality.”


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/05/19/easing-lockdowns-demands-extra-vigilance/)