Easing coronavirus restrictions and reopening the economy too quickly could lead to a “vicious cycle” of economic crisis and health disasters, Mike Ryan, executive director, World Health Organisation (WHO) emergencies program, has said.
Mr Ryan, who disclosed this on Wednesday at a press conference at the organisation’s headquarters, Geneva, said “what we all fear is a vicious cycle of public health disaster followed by economic disaster followed by public health disaster followed by economic disaster.”
“If you reopen in the presence of a high degree of virus transmission, then that transmission may accelerate,” he said.
Mr Ryan said it’s a “false equation” to choose between the economy and public health, adding that “the worst thing that could happen economically, is that a country reopens and then has to shut down again to respond to a resurgence of the virus.”
“If that virus transmission accelerates and you don’t have the systems to detect it, it will be days or weeks before you know something has gone wrong,” he said. “That has more danger for the economic system than it actually has on the health system in a sense.”
Ryan had issued a similar caution two weeks ago when he noted that a hasty lifting of lockdown restrictions could worsen the pandemic.
In Nigeria, for instance, President Muhammadu Buhari relaxed the fifth week of lockdown in Lagos, Abuja and Ogun, May 4.
However, the guideline issued by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) mandated anyone in public spaces to use non-medical face masks amongst other measures.
It also prohibited interstate travels — save for essential travel services — as well as gathering of more than 20 people outside of a workplace.
Nigeria had since recorded a significant rise in the numbers of confirmed cases after easing its lockdown.
Mr Ryan said such lockdown measures are designed to relieve pressure on health systems and give them time to ramp up capacity to treat the critically ill.
He added that while reinstating social distancing restrictions will help hospitals, such a stop-and-go policy would devastate the economy.
He said to avoid rolling out restrictions after they have been lifted, countries and regions that reopen need to have infrastructure in place to conduct widespread testing to quickly detect and isolate potential cases before they have a chance to spread.
“Without the capacity to test broadly, it will take weeks for officials to detect a new outbreak — giving it weeks to circulate unchecked.
“We should not be waiting to see if opening of lockdowns has worked by counting the cases in the ICUs or counting the bodies in the morgue. That is not the way to know something has gone wrong,” he said. “The way to know the disease is coming back is to have community-based surveillance, to be testing and to know that the problem is coming back and then be able to adjust your public health measures accordingly.”
On March 11, WHO officials declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic when there were just 121,000 global cases.
Since then, the virus has infected more than 4.2 million people around the world and killed at least 292,316, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.