The World Health Organization warned rushing to ease coronavirus restrictions will likely lead to a resurgence of the contagion as governments start rolling out plans to get economies up and running again.
“This is not the time to be lax. Instead we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future,” said Dr Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific on Tuesday.
He said governments must remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus and the lifting of lockdowns and other social distancing measures must be done gradually and strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function.
“As we move forward in this difficult time, our lives, our health system and approach to stopping transmission must continue to adapt and evolve along with the epidemic, at least until a vaccine or very effective treatment is found,” Kasai said.
“This process will need to become our new normal,” he added.
Countries with limited resources are a priority, such as Pacific Island nations, Kasai said, as they have to ship samples to other countries for diagnoses, and transportation restrictions are making that more difficult.
The WHO Western Pacific region is home to almost 1.9 billion people across 37 countries. The focus of the epidemic is now on Europe, however, the organisation expects it to shift to other regions.
‘Worst ahead of us’
On Monday, the WHO chief also warned the worst of the coronavirus pandemic has yet to come.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva “the worst is yet ahead of us” – but did not specify in what ways the crisis could get worse.
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) April 20, 2020
His warning followed the United States and some European countries beginning the process of slowly reopening and emerging from various lockdowns put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“It has a very dangerous combination and this is happening … like the 1918 flu that killed up to 100 million people,” the WHO chief said.
Tedros added because of the technological advances since then “we can prevent that disaster. We can prevent that kind of crisis”.
“Trust us. The worst is yet ahead of us. Let’s prevent this tragedy. It’s a virus that many people still don’t understand,” said Tedros.
The new coronavirus first surfaced in central China in late 2019. The number of coronavirus positive cases is about 2.5 million worldwide, with the US, Italy and Spain overtaking mainland China in confirmed cases.