WHO: Lifting lockdown should be gradual
MANILA, Philippines — The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that any plans to ease quarantine restrictions should be carried out gradually to prevent a likely resurgence of infections as President Rodrigo Duterte weighed whether to lift, extend or loosen the lockdown he imposed on Luzon nearly two months ago to halt the spread the new coronavirus in the Philippines.
According to Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO Western Pacific regional director, the lockdowns and other stringent measures have been “proven to be effective in slowing down and reducing the transmission” of SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, which has downed 2.46 million people globally and killed 169,863 of them as of Tuesday.
But Kasai acknowledged that the restrictions had upended millions of lives and had had a major impact on economies that governments are now deciding how best to remove them without rolling back their gains in trying to suppress the contagion.
Public health principles
He noted that while there was no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue, the WHO strongly urged governments to make decisions guided by public health principles and that any easing of measures should be gradually done.
“If restrictions are relaxed too soon before a strong system is in place to identify, isolate, care for the sick and trace their contacts, this will likely lead to a resurgence of the disease,” Kasai said in an online press conference.
“The important key principles are: [decisions] should be based on data and public health principles, the lifting [of the lockdown] should be gradual and in a phased manner, and individual interventions should be addressed in a risk-based manner by checking its effectiveness depending on the cultural context,” he added
As of Monday, the Western Pacific region, home to 22 countries including the Philippines, had 132,438 confirmed coronavirus cases. It accounted for nearly 5 percent of all fatalities, or 5,648 patients.
Within the week, Duterte is expected to decide whether to prolong the Luzon lockdown or enforce it only in parts of the island where there is active transmission of the virus.
“This is not the time to be lax. Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living in the foreseeable future,” Kasai said. “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,” he added.
There are currently more than 70 candidate vaccines, of which three are in the first phase of clinical trials while one is in the second phase, the WHO said.
No country is safe“As long as the new coronavirus is circulating, no country is safe from potentially overwhelming outbreaks. We can only get out of this together,” Kasai said.
“Citizens should accept the responsibility of protecting themselves, their family and community through social distancing, frequent hand washing and staying at home. The private sector should also adopt new ways of working from home and other measures to reduce infection in the workplace,” he added.
Asked what industries might be allowed to reopen without causing a second wave of infection, Kasai said such businesses included those with low concentration of contact as well as those that could modify their operations to minimize risk of infection
“What is important is to have a system where we could monitor whether we’re lifting [the measures] in the right way or would need to bring back certain interventions,” he said.
Some Asian and European governments have gradually eased or started relaxing lockdown measures like quarantines, school and business closures and restrictions on public gatherings, citing a decline in the growth coronavirus case counts and deaths.
Easing Luzon lockdown
In the Philippines, health experts are pushing for a gradual easing of the Luzon lockdown, recommending the imposition of restrictions on parts of the island with high infection rates.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Tuesday that no one among the health experts consulted by the government had recommended a “total lockdown,” a threat being spread by some people on social media.
The President met with the health experts and former heads of the Department of Health (DOH) and listened to their recommendations on what steps his administration could take after April 30, when the lockdown ends.
Present at the meeting were former health secretaries Janette Garin, Esperanza Cabral and Jaime Galvez-Tan.
Roque said Duterte made no decision, as he still had to hear from the DOH, National Economic and Development Authority, and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, the temporary government body overseeing the administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“He said his decision may come today or may come on April 30. Because whatever his decision will be, people might leave their houses. But what is clear is that no one recommended [ a total lockdown] in Luzon. They said there is a need to relax or lift the quarantine [in] areas where there are few cases of COVID-19,” Roque said.
Metro lockdown extension
Several senators on Tuesday supported a proposal for the extension of the lockdown in Metro Manila, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Sen. Sonny Angara, the Senate finance committee chair who survived COVID-19, said he agreed with the proposal of Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go to further extend the lockdown after April 30, but the government should inform the public about it ahead of the extension.
“[Go’s proposal] sounds like a reasonable proposal,” Angara said in a Viber message. He said the government should open the ports and allow the free movement of food and other necessities throughout the country.
Sen. Joel Villanueva also supported Go’s proposal, saying certain businesses like food manufacturing, logistics and construction might be allowed to resume operations in Bulacan, Cebu, Davao and even in some parts of Metro Manila.
But people who would be allowed to return to work should be strictly required to follow public health measures, he added.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said commerce should be allowed to resume in coronavirus-free parts of the country, but local government and the private sector should jointly conduct mass testing.
—WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, MARLON RAMOS AND AP
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