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‘Extreme vigilance’ needed to go back to work, schools after coronavirus lockdown: WHO

Coronavirus outbreak: WHO says ‘extreme vigilance’ needed in exit from lockdowns
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that "extreme vigilance" was needed as countries begin to exit from lockdowns, imposed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, amid global concerns about a second wave of infections.

Countries around the world have started to lift their coronavirus lockdowns, but they have to be extremely careful as they do it, according to the World Health Organization.

“Now we are seeing some hope as many countries exit these lockdowns,” Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, told an online news briefing, but he added that “extreme vigilance is required.”

“If the disease persists at a low level without the possibility to investigate clusters, there’s always the possibility that the virus takes off again.”

READ MORE: More COVID-19 restrictions slowly being lifted across Canada

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the briefing Monday that measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 have been effective but costly.

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“The good news is that there has been a great deal of success in slowing the virus and ultimately saving lives,” Tedros said.

“However, such strong measures have come at a cost and we recognize the serious socio-economic impact of the lockdowns which have had a detrimental effect on many people’s lives. Therefore, to protect lives and livelihoods, a slow, steady lifting of lockdowns is key to stimulating economies while also keeping a vigilant eye on the virus so that control measures can be quickly implemented.”

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Figuring out how to get adults back to work and children back to school is key for any reopening plan.

READ MORE: WHO warns against ‘blind’ restart of world economies, citing low COVID-19 testing

On Sunday, the WHO released guidelines on how to do this.

For workplaces, this includes maintaining physical distance between employees, emphasizing handwashing procedures, regular disinfecting of the workplace and encouraging teleworking when possible.

For schools, the guidelines include finding ways to ensure that children can play while maintaining distance, deciding whether some children can learn from home, and paying attention to local circumstances, such as whether there is currently a major outbreak in the community.

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“There’s a lot of considerations that need to be taken into account when deciding whether and how to open schools,” said Dr. Maria van Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist. “It’s not just a matter of if they should open, it’s how they should open. And there’s a lot of detrimental effects to children who are not in school.”

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In the briefing, WHO officials stressed that early studies point to lower-than-expected antibody levels against the disease within the general population, meaning that most people remain susceptible.

“There seems to be a consistent pattern so far that a low proportion of people so far have these antibodies,” van Kerkhove said.

Given that, Ryan warned countries that have “lax measures” in place against counting on herd immunity to halt the spread of COVID-19.

“This is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation,” he said.

– With files from Reuters