The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with countries on strategies to gradually and safely ease stay-at-home restrictions aimed at containing the spread of the new coronavirus.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general told journalists that the agency wants to see restrictions lifted as much as anyone. However, he cautioned against any sudden action.
“At the same time, 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”.
Dr. Tedros laid out six factors for consideration, which include that transmission is controlled and sufficient public health and medical services are available.
He added that outbreak risks in settings such as long-term care facilities also need to be minimized, while workplaces, schools and other essential locations should have preventive measures in place.
“Every single person has a role to play in ending this pandemic. We are particularly concerned by the large numbers of infections reported among health workers. In some countries, there are reports of more than 10 percent of health workers being infected. This is an alarming trend. When health workers are at risk, we’re all at risk,” he said.
While there has been a welcome slowing of COVID-19 cases in European countries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as Spain and Italy, Tedros said the virus is spreading to rural areas in Africa. With clusters of cases and community spread now appearing in more than 16 countries, he expects severe hardship for local health systems, which are already overstretched.
Meanwhile, some countries are reporting that more than 10 percent of their health workers have been infected by the new coronavirus, indicative of what Tedros described as “an alarming trend”.
Evidence from China, Italy, Singapore, Spain and the United States shows that some infections are occurring outside health facilities, so at home or in communities.
Factors for infection in health settings include late recognition of COVID-19 and lack of training or experience in dealing with respiratory pathogens. Many health workers are also being exposed to large numbers of patients during long shifts with inadequate rest periods.
“However, the evidence also shows that when health workers wear personal protective equipment the right way, infections can be prevented”, said Tedros, adding that that’s what makes it even more important is that health workers can access the masks, gloves, gowns and other PPE they need to do their jobs safely and effectively.
He estimated that each month, the recently launched UN Supply Chain Task Force will need to ship 100 million medical masks and gloves; up to 25 million respirators, gowns and face shields, and 2.5 million diagnostic tests, among other supplies.