Wednesday, 5 August, 2020
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OPINION

Plan For Easing The Lockdown



Dr. Shyam P Lohani

 

More than 2.2 million cases worldwide with 154,261 deaths have already been reported with the coronavirus pandemic (18 April 2020, 3:18 GMT). Observing statistics closely, about 1,525,345 cases are still active. Of the total cases, 1,468,209 (96 per cent) are in mild condition while the remaining four per cent are in a critical stage. There were 725,406 closed cases of which 571,145 (79 per cent) got recovered/discharged and the remaining 21 per cent succumbed to the deadly virus (Worldometers.info).
On 13 April, WHO officials, at a briefing, said lockdown must be lifted strategically and not completely. It recommends for easing restrictions for those countries with lower number of cases with long-term continuation of preventive measures such as social distancing and hand washing. Coronavirus outbreaks are at different stages around the world and countries are considering for changes in restrictions. Some countries are keeping restrictions in place while others are easing the lockdowns. However, restrictions are being strengthened in other places. WHO recommends countries that eased restrictions should wait for at least two weeks and evaluate the impact before taking further steps.
Scenario update
Despite the fear that another wave of outbreaks may lead to thousands of deaths, many countries are easing their restrictions. The worst-hit countries such as the Unites States, Spain, Italy, Germany, China and Iran are easing their restrictions. The USA is preparing new guidelines for allowing social distancing to be relaxed in areas with low transmission rates. Spain, a country with strictest lockdown in Europe, has recently eased manufacturing and other non-essential activities while increasing virus testing. On 14 April, Italy lifted restrictions on shops--stationers and children’s clothes- retaining all other lockdown measures in place. After closing for nearly four weeks, non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen in Germany.
While gatherings of more than 10 people remain debarred and trades that encourage physical contact remain closed while restaurants and cafes can still serve takeaway, Denmark has begun to reopen schools for certain age groups. New Zealand will resume schools from coming Wednesday but attendance will be voluntary. Last Sunday, the Czech government relaxed some restrictions allowing its citizens to travel abroad for business trips. But those who have spent more than two weeks abroad will have be stay in quarantines.
The City of Wuhan in China is fully resuming operations of rails, freights and flights by the end of this month. The city has lifted the lockdown since 8 April. India will also be easing restrictions tomorrow to revive manufacturing and farming in rural areas and giving permissions to resume construction of roads and buildings in those areas. Similarly, they will allow transport of goods, essential and non-essential, between states.
Iran, one of the hardest hit countries in the Middle East, has already lifted travel ban within provinces. The country has just reopened low risk businesses outside Tehran.
The United Kingdom (UK) is not easing restrictions, saying it is too early to ease social distancing, while France has renewed lockdown till 11 May, despite signs that rate of infections has passed its peak. Although there are reports of surge in infections among migrant workers in Singapore, the country is having partial lockdown till 4 May with mandatory wearing of masks for people outside of their homes. Canada has also extended its lockdown for another 28 days in Ontario and non-essential businesses will remain closed for several weeks. Social distancing measures are in place until 22 April in Sao Paulo and until 30 April in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Saudi Arabia has extended its lockdown indefinitely with continuous ban on pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca. Most countries in Africa have no plans to ease restrictions.
Beginning 7 April, Japan introduced a state of emergency and is preparing to expand emergency nationwide. However, the country allows authorities to force people stay at home and businesses will remain closed.
Most infections may take place at risky places such as hospitals, especially in ICUs. There have been sufficient evidences that from the surfaces of door handles, smartphones or other objects (e.g. paper money) virus get transmitted to humans. Mass events are a perfect opportunity for the virus to get transmitted. Religious gatherings have also been found to spread the COVID-19 pandemic. So, Saudi Arabia is still putting a strict ban on religious events.

Ways forward
The Government of Nepal should start thinking of allowing the general public to resume their work with precautions once the ongoing lockdown expires on 27 April. Preventive measures such as wearing a face mask, social distancing of at least one metre, washing hands frequently with soap and water, and using sanitiser at work places should remain mandatory. Offices, industries, schools, and colleges where social distancing can be implemented should be allowed to reopen. Restaurants can be opened only for takeaway. Sporting activities such as badminton, cycling, yoga, etc. should be allowed to resume as they do not require people to have close physical contact.
It is also the right time for the government to start planning for introducing financial relief packages that will support private enterprises to compensate the losses they have faced due to the coronavirus pandemic. We cannot lock down the country for an indefinite period. People will have to learn how to survive in pandemics. The coronavirus pandemic is sure to change the way we lived in the past.

(Dr. Lohani is the Professor at Nobel College, Pokhara University. He can be reached at lohanis@gmail.com) 

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