Countries around the world are under varying degrees of lockdown to slow the spread of coronavirus. When these measures are lifted – and when life may start to return to normal – is one of the questions at the forefront of collective conscience.
Where China has slowly started to re-open society and their economy, Saudi Arabia announced a 24-hour lockdown. Denmark on Tuesday announced it would gradually re-open, beginning with nurseries, kindergartens, and primary schools.
In Singapore, all social gatherings “of any size” in private and public spaces have been banned by a recent bill. The law will be in effect for six months, but could be extended for a year.
Epidemiologists have previously told Al Arabiya English that places experiencing coronavirus outbreaks right now – like North America, Western Europe, and some Middle Eastern countries – may be under some form of lockdown until June.
How long lockdowns will, and can, stay in place depends largely on how long economies can withstand the stress.
Economic considerations aside, epidemiologists say that once a country has slowed the number of cases recorded daily to “a trickle,” it can most likely safely re-open, but it must do so slowly and carefully.
“We have to keep the pressure on until new cases are down to basically a trickle,” said Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University. “If you can move from mitigation to suppression, and we can track [cases] and tamp them down before they become widespread, that’s when you can maybe start to loosen the valve a little bit.”
Mitigation, like large-scale lockdowns where businesses are closed, is what many countries are now having to do. Suppression refers to keeping the number of cases low through large-scale testing, tracking, and isolating where necessary.
Globally, countries missed the opportunity to tackle the outbreak with suppression and have had to move to more heavy-handed mitigation efforts to stem the fast-moving virus.
As countries manage to lower their daily case counts and develop better abilities to implement large-scale testing and monitoring, they will be able to open up gradually.
However, life will likely look different for a while, even as countries gradually re-open, and large events may be out of the question for a while.
“Even when we do re-open, high-risk people should probably stay behind, and then large group gatherings are probably out of the question until we have a vaccine,” Binney said.
Most timelines put vaccine development and deployment at 18 months.
Austria announced April 6 that it intends to begin re-opening non-essential sectors next week after reaching a downward trend in its case count. The country will continue to require that face masks are worn in supermarkets and those using public transport and visiting newly re-opened stores will also have to wear face masks.
Spain, France, Belgium, and Finland have set up committees to determine how best to gradually relax social restrictions, Time reported.
Meanwhile, New Zealand is two weeks into a lockdown that will last at least four weeks. The country invoked restrictive measures early on, and on Wednesday recorded its lowest number of new coronavirus cases, a day after testing a record number of people, the Guardian reported.
Countries around the world will individually have to weigh many considerations when deciding when and how to re-open society, such as their daily case counts and the likelihood of spurring a second wave if they open up too quickly, their health care system’s preparedness, and their economy’s ability to cope.