As some of the European countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to see signs of slowing in infections, the World Health Organization (WHO) sounded a stern warning against lifting restrictions too soon, saying it could lead to a deadly resurgence of COVID-19.
“In the past week, we’ve seen a welcome slowing in some of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, like Spain, Italy, Germany and France,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a regular press briefing on Friday, reported Xinhua news agency.
As “some countries are already planning the transition out of stay-at-home restrictions,” the WHO chief warned that “lifting restrictions too quickly could lead to a deadly resurgence.”
“The way down can be as dangerous as the way up if not managed properly,” he said, underlining that the WHO is working with affected countries on strategies for gradually and safely easing restrictions.
The novel coronavirus has claimed 13,197 lives in France. But the country is witnessing a decline in the number of critically-ill patients on Friday for a second consecutive day, a “pale ray of sunshine,” according to Director General of Health Jerome Salomon.
In Spain, where the total number of infection cases has reached 157,022, and death toll stood at 15,843, the single-day numbers of new cases and related deaths dropped on Friday for the second day in a row, according to the data collected by the Spanish Ministry for Health, Consumer Affairs and Social Welfare.
Italy is also witnessing a drop in those hospitalized and those in intensive care, as total fatalities in the country amounted to 18,849 by Friday.
Nonetheless, Italy remains one of the countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 150,000 infections. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Friday extended the country’s national coronavirus lockdown by “at least” additional 20 days to May 3.
Some European countries are already considering relaxing their restriction measures as they see a slowing trend in the number of COVID-19 infections. Austria, for instance, aims to gradually ease the exit restrictions and reopen shops and businesses from mid-April. Switzerland also suggested “the first relaxations” by the end of April.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that a further tightening of restrictions on daily life in Germany is not necessary at present.
“The curve is flattening out,” said Merkel at the Chancellery. The latest COVID-19 infection figures in Germany gave “reason for cautious hope.” But she stressed that it would be necessary to be “very, very careful” with relaxing the current restrictions.
The European Union (EU) on Wednesday proposed prolonging travel restriction at its external borders. The European Commission said in a statement that it invited Schengen member states and Schengen associated states to prolong the temporary restriction on non-essential travel to the EU until May 15.
Britain’s coronavirus lockdown is to continue as the country heads towards one of its biggest holiday weekends of the year while the death toll keeps growing. The fear was that a relaxation of the lockdown could risk seeing millions of people heading to seaside resorts and tourism hotspots during the four-day Easter holiday which starts Friday and lasts until Monday.
“At this stage, the government continues to gather data to determine the effects of the lockdown and physical distancing measures,” said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Thursday urged people to adhere to social distancing measures during the Easter holiday; Sweden’s Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg said on Thursday that all forms of travel should be avoided and social distancing be upheld while restaurants should not allow crowds to form in outdoors seating areas as the weather warms.
The Hungarian government will indefinitely extend the lockdown imposed nearly two weeks ago due to the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced on his Facebook page on Thursday.
The WHO chief stressed that decision of lifting restrictions should be made on the condition that transmission is controlled; that sufficient public health and medical services are available; that outbreak risks in special settings like long-term care facilities are minimized; that preventive measures are in place in workplaces, schools and other places where it’s essential for people to go; that importation risks can be managed; and that communities are fully aware and engaged in the transition.
Globally, nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to the WHO, as well as more than 92,000 deaths.