‘Premature easing’ of virus restrictions worries experts

Updated 10 Jun 2020

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Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India and Pakistan are among countries easing tight restrictions before their outbreaks have peaked. — AFP/File
Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India and Pakistan are among countries easing tight restrictions before their outbreaks have peaked. — AFP/File

SAO PAULO: As many countries gingerly start lifting their lockdown measures, experts worry that a further surge of coronavirus in under-developed regions with shaky health systems could undermine efforts to halt the pandemic, and they say more realistic options are needed.

Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India and Pakistan are among countries easing tight restrictions, not only before their outbreaks have peaked but also before any detailed surveillance and testing system is in place to keep the virus under control. That could ultimately have devastating consequences, health experts warn.

Politicians may be desperate to get their economies going again, but that could be at the expense of having huge numbers of people die, said Dr Bharat Pankhania, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Exeter in Britain. He said re-imposing recently lifted lockdown measures was equally dangerous.

“Doing that is extremely worrying because then you will build up a highly resentful and angry population, and it’s unknown how they will react,” Pankhania said. “And as nearly every developed country struggles with its own outbreak, there may be fewer resources to help those with long overstretched capacities.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, said the pandemic was worsening globally, noting that countries on Sunday reported the biggest-ever one-day total: more than 136,000 cases. Among those, nearly 75 per cent of the cases were from 10 countries in the Americas and South Asia.

Wealthy countries in Europe and North America hit first by the pandemic are training armies of contact tracers to hunt down cases, designing tracking apps and planning virus-free air travel corridors.

But in many poor regions where crowded slums and streets mean even basic measures like hand-washing and social distancing are difficult, the coronavirus is exploding now that restrictions are being removed. Last week, Brazil, Mex­ico, South Africa, India and Pakistan all saw one-day records of new infections or deaths as they reopened public spaces and businesses.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2020