WHO warns rush to ease virus rules could cause resurgence
Lifting measures must be done gradually to strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function
BANGKOK — The World Health Organization said rushing to ease coronavirus restrictions will likely lead to a resurgence of the illness, a warning that comes as governments start rolling out plans to get their 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.
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.
Despite concerns from health officials, some US states announced aggressive reopening plans, while Boeing and at least one other US heavy-equipment manufacturer resumed production. Elsewhere around the world, step-by-step reopenings were underway in Europe, where the crisis has begun to ebb in places such as Italy, Spain and Germany.
Australia said it will allow the resumption of non-urgent surgeries from next week as health authorities grow more confident that hospitals there won’t be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
The reopenings come as politicians grow weary of soaring unemployment numbers and the prospect of economic depression. Asian shares followed Wall Street lower on April 21 after US oil futures plunged below zero because of a worldwide glut as factories, automobiles and airplanes sit idled.
The cost to have a barrel of US crude delivered in May plummeted to negative $37.63 as traders run out of places to store it. It was at roughly $60 at the start of the year.
Businesses that start operating again in the US are likely to engender good will with President Donald Trump at a time when his administration is doling out billions in relief to companies. Trump has been agitating to restart the economy, singling out Democratic-led states and egging on protesters complaining that the shutdowns are destroying their livelihoods and trampling their rights.
In several states – most of them Republican-led – governors said they had seen signs that the coronavirus curve was flattening, making it possible to start reopening businesses and public spaces.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans to restart his state’s economy before the end of the week. Kemp said gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlours could reopen April 24, as long as owners followed strict social distancing and hygiene requirements.
Texas on April 20 began a week of slow reopenings, starting off with state parks, while officials said that later in the week, stores would be allowed to offer curbside service. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that businesses across most of the state would begin reopening as early as next week, although the order did not cover counties with the largest cities, including Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga. Both states are led by Republicans.
Republican West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said he would allow hospitals to begin performing elective procedures if the facilities met an unspecified set of criteria, while Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he would let his statewide stay-at-home order expire next week as long as strict social distancing and other individual protective measures continued.
But governors from many other states said they lacked the testing supplies they need and warned they could get hit by a second wave of infections, given how people with no symptoms can still spread the disease.
“Who in this great state actually believes that they care more about jet skiing than saving the lives of the elderly or the vulnerable?” Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer remarked, referring to restrictions in place in her state. “This action isn’t about our individual right to gather. It’s about our parents’ right to live.”
Worldwide the virus has infected nearly 2.5 million people and caused more than 170,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University count. The US has been the hardest hit country with more than 787,000 infections and more than 42,000 deaths.
The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, warned on ABC: “Unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen.”